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Will Gates' proposed Pentagon spending cuts really save money?

Defense Secretary Gates' proposal to cut defense staffers, slash contractors and shut down the military's Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va. seems to be just the government reform many watchdogs and Congressional leaders want to see.

But it may be hard to determine whether the cuts--which may or may not be implemented--would yield the promised savings.

Predictably, Virginia government officials, including the state's Congressional delegation, are already up in arms.

Paul D. Fraim, who has been the mayor of Norfolk for 17 years, said the Joint Forces Command was meant to "save the military money by becoming more coordinated in their war fighting ability so it could become more efficient."

He said he thinks moving some of the command's responsibilities to other areas will actually be more expensive.

The command (JFCOM, known to insiders as "jiff-com" or "jiffy-com") was originally the Atlantic Command (ACOM), which was itself renamed from U.S. Atlantic Command (USACOM) after the end of the Cold War. It was General Colin Powell's idea to convert a Cold War Combatant Commander to concentrate on joint training and transforming the U.S. military. The geographic responsibility for certain areas in the Atlantic and Caribbean regions was given to other commands.

The idea of having a non-geographic command focused on military transformation and looking to the future isn't a bad one, and it is interesting that the Gates transformation eliminates the very supposed change agent for that mission. On the other hand, JFCOM is the command that the services love to hate, particularly when it mucks about in doctrine and "jointness" that challenges how things are done.

So what would be saved? Joint Forces command costs about $240 million a year to run and includes about 2,800 military and civilian positions, plus 3,300 contractors. A July review from the Defense Business Review Board, an advisory committee to the Pentagon, cited it as a division where contractors outnumbered military and civilian employees. The board put it in a PowerPoint slide show with the headline, "Are some of the Combatant Commands becoming Contractor Commands?"

Stephen Daggett, a specialist in defense policy and budgets at the Congressional Research Service, said there may not be as much cost savings in closing the Joint Forces Command as Gates suggests because some of its duties, including developing doctrine and training, still have to be done in some part of the military.

"To the extent they're just done somewhere else, that wouldn't be cost savings," he said.

Mayor Fraim also points to the problem of what to do with the $16 million building that's under construction as a new office for the command. The command was expected to open it next July.

"They're getting ready to close the building before they open it," Fraim said.

Do you think Defense Secretary Gates' proposed spending cuts are a step in the right direction? How do you feel about their potential impact on the economies of Northern Virginia and the Norfolk region?

By Dana Hedgpeth and William Arkin  |  August 10, 2010; 9:53 AM ET
 
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Comments

Even if does save money, it will probably be used to bailout more Unions rather than pay off the debt!!!!

Posted by: Jimbo77 | August 10, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

"Saving money" is a fluid concept, to say the least. Because it is removed from one budget line as "savings" does not guarantee that it doesn't magically appear in another, as "revenue".

As for the N. VA folk currently dependent upon the military-industrial complex, unless they are somehow more sacrosanct than those in other regions of the country where the economy was formerly dependent upon the industry of war, they, too, will have to deal with the only constant that ever has been known in human history: change.

Posted by: francesewood1 | August 10, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, this is just a very silly question. (Great series...but nonsensical question here.) Gates never said his "cuts" would "save" money from the overall Pentagon budget. Granted the article is very poorly written...and the headline even grossly misleading...but the article states: "On Monday, the defense secretary emphasized that he is not seeking to cut the Pentagon's overall budget. Rather, he said, officials need to demonstrate a newfound thriftiness to keep deficit hawks elsewhere in the government at bay." Can anyone explain why that's in the ninth paragraph of the article? Or the fact that defense spending is expected to increase next year is in the 11th paragraph? How could that be described as a "cut" in any way...except in the wondrously convoluted budget-speak of our government...well, and now the POST.

This is a shell-game, pure and simple...but a "time-honored" government budgeting ploy used for decades: cut a minuscule amount here, in order to say you're "saving" money, but move that same money into areas where you can try to convince everyone that more money is essential. And get them to ignore areas where real savings could be achieved...how much more clearly did Gates have to state that ("keep deficit hawks...at bay")?

Why don't we close military bases in Europe, and elsewhere, that serve no purpose at all? Why do we foot almost the entire bill for "defense" of our allies? Well, that one's easy: they're not nearly stupid enough to waste billions of their own money on completely pointless, and completely unproven, "defense" systems.

The fact that the US, apparently, outspends the rest of the world combined in defense spending...and jeopardizes its own future with trillion dollar deficits...is a complete disgrace. Wonder when we Americans will ever stop letting our so-called "leaders" run our country into bankruptcy for their own self-serving aims. "National interest"...not even remotely.

Posted by: Rigged | August 10, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Have any of those cuts ever really saved us any money? I know it will cut the number of taxpayers, somewhat.

Posted by: kesac | August 10, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

How this falls under "top secret America" is not at all clear. Joint Forces Command is part of the intel community?

Gates' objective is to make better use of DoD funds - the old "more bang for the buck." Anyone who has compared the number of generals & admirals during WW II when there were about 12 million under arms to current brass ratio would understand that there is room for change - as Senator Glenn reportedly noted with the term brass creep.

As for the new building, better to cut ones losses. We didn't keep fighting in Vietnam just because we had already spent billions.

Posted by: RichardCollins | August 10, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

The mayor of Norfolk is a defense budget expert? Amazing. He should get Obama to appoint him to a job that matches his skills.

Posted by: jiji1 | August 10, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

I truly respect President Obama. He takes on hard issues such as the need to cut back on spending for the military, health care issues, and others.

Most who complain about things like the deficit are hypocritical. The two presidents in my lifetime who added more to the national debt than all the presidents before them combined were Ronald Reagan and GW Bush. Bill Clinton is the only president who really worked to reduce the growth of the deficit. Yet Republicans scream about the deficit as if they were not the ones who created it.

To take on the deficit, you have to do hard things--cut in many areas, let Bush's tax cuts for the very rich expire, etc. After all, the tax cuts for the rich just trickled up anyway, not down. Immediately following them, those same privileged people gutted the economy and demanded bailouts.

When we talk about cutting the deficit, we need to understand there will be some hard choices in regard to cutting spending and raising taxes.

Posted by: tinyjab40 | August 10, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

The idea is a nice start, but not all it is made out to be - http://disenchantedjourno.blogspot.com/2010/08/grillng-white-house-gatess-plan-to-cut.html

Posted by: DJOURNO | August 10, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

if, as suggested by "rigged" that there are no real cuts or savings and it is all a "shell game"....then i wonder what the money might then be spent for in a secret america?

Posted by: sapphire808 | August 16, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

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