Analysis: Proposed DoD cuts could mean big changes

Wednesday - 5/12/2010, 5:06pm EDT

Greg Jaffe, reporter, Washington Post

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Tom Shoop, editor-in-chief, GovExec

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By Dorothy Ramienski
Internet Editor
Federal News Radio

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Saturday that as much as $15 billion will need to be cut from the Pentagon's $550 billion budget.

Under the proposed plan, the cuts would come from administrative bureaucracy and would be used to pay for other things, such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Greg Jaffe is a reporter for the Washington Post and explains where Gates is coming from.

"[He] has looked at the numbers and realized that, without two to three percent annual growth, in the Defense budget, the military is going to be in serious trouble. With the current economic climate, I think he realizes that getting three percent growth in the budget is unlikely to happen."

Thus, the call for a reduction in spending on bureaucracy. Of course, Jaffe noted, this isn't the first time such an action has been proposed, and some analysts are wondering whether or not it will work.

"It's something that . . . every Defense Secretary does. I've been covering the Pentagon for 10 years, and they all have this moment, it seems like, a few years in, where they say -- 'Gosh, this is crazy'. I will say the one thing that might be different about Secretary Gates is that he has proven himself to be a very effective Defense Secretary. He really understands and knows a lot about how big bureaucracies work by virtue of the fact that he spent his entire career working in them."

Jaffe also said that, because of this experience, Gates could succeed where others, such as his predecessor Donald Rumsfeld, failed.

"Gates has really been effective in ways that Rumsfeld wasn't. Rumsfeld tended to be a lot of bark and not a lot of bite. When people didn't do what he wanted -- an example -- he tended not to fire people. Gates, if you're not doing what he wants and you're not delivering what he's asking for, he has shown that he will replace you in a heartbeat. . . . I think he's proven to be significantly more adept at managing bureaucracies than Rumsfeld."

Now that Gates has spoken, Jaffe said some in the contracting community do have cause to be concerned.

"If your job is contracting with the Pentagon, particularly [in] administrative and bureaucratic functions, I'd be worried, to be frank. I think big weapons systems are harder to cut and change, but if you have one of these service contracts that have grown up in the last decade or so as the military outsourced more of that, I would be concerned. That's clearly what Gates is targeting."

It's not simply contractors, however, that could see cuts in their future. Part of the plan would call for a scaling back of certain pay and benefits for members of the military, which can be a hot-button issue.

Tom Shoop is executive editor at Government Executive magazine and told the Daily Debrief on Tuesday that part of the reason that Gates can propose -- and make -- such sweeping changes is because he is in a unique position.

"The only guy who can do it is a guy who doesn't really need to be in this job. He had to be coaxed to stay [and] is not really interested in currying favor with either the White House or people on Capitol Hill. That's who Robert Gates is. If anyone could pull it off, it's him, but it's a whole lot of sacred cows he's taken on."

Shoop said the overall reorganization of DoD has to do with the 'tooth to tail' concept, with the tooth being the fighting aspect of the agency and the tail being the support system.

"The tail has been growing and growing and growing for decades now, partly because it's an increasingly complicated thing to pull off what the Defense Department wants to pull off. But, the other thing is, everything in the tail isn't stuff that's all that politically beneficial to people nearly so much as the tooth stuff is -- the weapons systems [etcetera]. It's just harder to get people to pay attention to the more mundane kinds of things -- and even when you do, they tend to be things that people don't want to be seen as cutting back on, that is pay increases for military service members and health care."

During his speech, the Defense Secretary talked about how premiums for TRICARE members haven't gone up enough, and also raised the issue of a proposal to require militiary retirees who have taken jobs in the private sector to look for health care elsewhere.