The head of the U.S. Defense Department plans to begin eliminating positions within his own office as part of a larger effort to cut the military bureaucracy amid budget reductions.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he will trim the number of military and civilian personnel within the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2,400 to less than 2,200 from fiscal 2015 to fiscal 2019. That amounts to at least 200 positions, or 8 percent of the office workforce, over five years. Put another way, that's about 40 people a year.
"These reductions are only a first step in DoD's efforts to realign defense spending to meet new fiscal realities and strategic priorities," he said, according to a press release.
While the headcount reductions only total 8 percent over five years, Hagel said the office's operating budget will be reduced by 20 percent during that period. The estimated savings -- at least $1 billion -- will come from thinning the ranks of civilian and military personnel, but mostly contractors, through attrition, he said.
"We are still finalizing the details, which will be available when the budget is submitted next year," Hagel said in a Dec. 4 memo distributed to staff. "But we will save at least $1 billion over the next five years."
Hagel earlier this year vowed to cut five-year spending by 20 percent within the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff and the Military Service Headquarters -- whether or not lawmakers agree on a plan to avoid automatic budget cuts known as sequestration.
The plan, estimated to save at least $2 billion, was based in part on a strategic review led by former Air Force Secretary Michael Donley.
The move may eliminate more than 4,000 jobs, according to an unofficial headcount of those areas. That’s less than one-fifth of 1 percent of the Pentagon’s 2.1 million active-duty troops and civilian employees.
What’s more, the Pentagon bureaucracy has only increased since 2010, when former Defense Secretary Bob Gates made a similar pledge, raising questions about whether Hagel — or any defense secretary — can succeed in thinning the ranks of the military’s top-brass and senior civilians.
The number of positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff and the combatant commands increased 24 percent, to 21,952 in 2012 from 17,765 in 2010, according to a graphic accompanying an analysis earlier this year by Marcus Weisgerber, a reporter for Defense News.
More than half of the overall increase came from the Joint Staff, which simply absorbed positions from Joint Forces Command after Gates ordered the latter to be shuttered in 2010, according to the analysis.
In perhaps a harbinger of the difficulty in ordering actual layoffs, Hagel spared the position of Andrew Marshall, the 92-year-old who directs the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment, an internal think tank, though Marshall will now report to Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Miller.
Hagel also said the staffing reductions won't initially affect certain combatant command efforts, such as the so-called Exercise and Engagement Training Transformation Program, to protect readiness and training.
But his office did warn that if the department bears the full effect of sequestration, "we could be forced into making more abrupt personnel cuts that would have severe impact on morale and the department’s overall effectiveness," according to an accompanying fact sheet.
The Pentagon for fiscal 2014 requested $527 billion for its base budget and $79 billion for the war in Afghanistan. The spending plan doesn't take into account the automatic, across-the-board cuts, which are set to slice about $52 billion from the budget after Jan. 1.