Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday that tough economic times require that he shutter a major command that employs some 5,000 people around Norfolk, Va., and begin to eliminate other jobs throughout the military.
The announcement was the first major step by Gates to find $100 billion in savings in the next five years. Gates says that money is needed elsewhere within the Defense Department to repair a force ravaged by years of war and to prepare troops for the next fight.
"The culture of endless money that has taken hold must be replaced by a culture of savings and restraint," he said at a press conference.
Gates ticked off example after example of the bloat that has set in since 9/11, reports CBS News national security correspondent David Martin. His own office has grown by 1,000 people including 400 generals, admirals and senior civilians by 400.
It's called "brass creep."
Over the next two years, he wants the number of brass civilian and military cut by 200. He also plans to close the Business Transformation Agency, which spends $340 million a year.
Beyond specific cuts, Gates is out to end the decades-old pattern of sharp wartime inceease and steep peacetime declines.
The political backlash was swift and fierce from lawmakers fearful that jobs would be lost in their districts.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, said in a hastily called news conference that eliminating Norfolk's Joint Forces Command would deal a devastating blow to the state at a time of runaway federal spending on lower priorities.
Likewise, Republican Rep. J. Randy Forbes called the decision "further evidence of this administration allowing its budget for social change" and the "piecemeal auctioning off of the greatest military the world has ever known."
Democrats, including Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb, also condemned the move. Warner said he could see "no rational basis" for eliminating a command created to improve the services' ability to work together and find efficiencies.
"In the business world, you sometimes have to spend money in order to save money," said Warner.
In a Pentagon press conference, Gates was optimistic that Congress would eventually swing behind his plan despite lawmakers' control of the budget. He said in the case of Virginia, the state could wind up with additional jobs if the savings found by closing Joint Forces Command enables a boost in shipbuilding.
Gates described his initiative as just the beginning in his hunt for inefficiencies across the Defense Department, which commands a nearly $700 billion annual budget including war spending.
"The department must start setting priorities, making real trade-offs and separating appetites from real requirements," Gates said.
Gates vowed to review every corner of the budget, including the military's rising health care costs.
"There are no sacred cows," Gates said.
In addition to shutting down Joint Forces Command, Gates wants to:
- Trim by 10 percent the budget for contractors who support the Defense Department;
- Freeze the number of employees working for his office, defense agencies and combatant commands for the next three years; and
- Cut at least 50 general and flag officer positions and 150 senior civilian executive positions over the next two years.
Gates declined to say how much money would be saved by shutting down the command, which holds more than 1 million square feet of real estate in Suffolk, Va., and Norfolk, Va. Savings will be offset by the cost of shifting some jobs and roles elsewhere, he said.
JFCOM lists its mission as training troops from all services to work together for specific missions. It tries to make sure equipment used by different services works together and looks for gaps in capabilities within military services that could be filled by a specially trained joint force.
The command is headed by a four-star military officer, the highest grade currently in use. Marine Gen. James Mattis was its commander until named last month to replace Army Gen. David Petraeus as head of U.S. Central Command. His replacement will be Gen. Ray Odierno, now the war commander in Iraq. Odierno's job will be to eliminate his own office, officials said.
The plan Gates outlined was similar to one suggested last month by the Defense Business Board, a panel of company executives who advise the Pentagon. The panel identified Joint Forces Command as contributing to much of the contractor bloat because it had more contractors than government employees on its payroll.