WASHINGTON, Aug. 9, 2010 — The initiative to reduce Defense Department overhead and to eliminate duplicative capabilities is part of a larger thrust to change the culture of the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.
The department must be more frugal with the taxpayers’ money and must put what money it gets to the best use, the secretary said. Gates announced efforts that will freeze civilian hires, cut contract payments, reduce the number of general officers, flag officers and senior civilians, and eliminate two Defense Department offices and U.S. Joint Forces Command. “My hope and expectation is that the efforts we have launched will lead to the kind of cultural changes that over time become a part of the department’s DNA and institutional memory,” Gates said during a news conference today announcing the initiatives.
The secretary said his greatest fear is that Americans – all affected by the tough economic times – will look at the defense budget as a cash cow for other parts of government. “My responsibility to the president and to the Congress is to present them with a program that I believe is necessary to defend this nation,” he said.
As he looks around, Gates said, he sees an unstable world with more failed and failing states such as Somalia and more rogue countries such as Iran and North Korea. He also sees countries that are investing heavily in their militaries, and new kinds of threats – such as cyber attacks, increasingly accurate cruise and ballistic missile – are emerging.
“My greatest worry is that we will do to the defense budget what we have done four times before, and that is slash it in an effort to find some kind of a dividend to put the money someplace else,” he said. “I think that would be disastrous in the world environment we see today and what we’re likely to see in the years to come.” The United States slashed its defense budget after World War II, Korea, Vietnam and at the end of the Cold War.
“If you were to graph the defense budget going back the last 40 or 50 years, it would look like the EKG of a fibrillating heart,” he said. “What we need is modest, sustainable growth over a prolonged period of time that allows us to make sensible investment decisions, and not have these giant increases and giant decreases that make efficiency and doing acquisition in a sensible way almost impossible.”
The effort to find savings in the department not only is the right thing to do, but also is a way to make a “persuasive case to the Congress, and through them to the American people, that we are spending tax dollars wisely in the Department of Defense and in areas where they would like to see it spent,” Gates said. “And that is in capabilities and in our force structure and investment for the future, as well as our troops.”
The only way the department can make such a persuasive case is if it tackles poor acquisition practices, poor business practices, excessive reliance on contractors, waste and abuse, Gates said.
“We need to be able to show that we are actually doing something about these programs in a systematic way that affects every part of the department,” he said. “I think under those circumstances, we have a pretty good opportunity to make our case.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)