USA — Gates Strives to Change Pentagon’s Culture

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)

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