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?
Dana Hedgpeth and William Arkin
August 10, 2010; 9:53 AM ET
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