Written by, Joshua M. Patton
One of the major conundrums facing Robert Gates, one of the few Cabinet members to serve two Presidents from different parties, is how to manage the funding of the Department of Defense when every dollar the government spends is being heavily scrutinized. Thus, his proposal to eliminate $100 billion from the $700 billion per year defense budget is both intelligent and aggressive. The Obama Administration held him in his position from the Bush Administration where he was supposed to remain until the end of this year. However, given the ambitious nature of these proposals, he is likely to stay on even longer.
Gates is the first Obama Administration official to take proactive and specific steps to supplant “the culture of endless money” and replace it with a “culture of savings and restraint.” Thus, they aren’t necessarily spending cuts, of the type that Congress might impose, but a trimming of the budget and reallocation of funds. The Department of Defense is a dense and layered bureaucracy and it receives a significant portion of annual spending, thus there is an increasing amount of pressure for reform.
It is not likely that any troops on the front lines will be denied access to necessary equipment or raises any more than they already are. The measures call for the reduction or elimination of agencies, federal boards, and senior management both civilian and uniformed. Also, they plan to cut funding for federal contractors by 30% over the next three years. This is notable simply because when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld started his misguided attempt to slenderize the military, the DoD became increasingly reliant on contractors to fill roles previously held by military personnel, costing the taxpayers much less than their private counterparts.
In some ways, it can be argued that the cuts do not go deep enough. Secretary Gates said that many high-ranking people were doing jobs that could conceivably be done by those of a lower rank. Therefore the number of flag officers and senior civilian executives will be decreased. It seems the sharper side of Gate’s blade avoids those in uniform.
While the pressure is on to reduce spending many argue that the government’s most gainful employer, the DoD, should not be cutting jobs at this time of economic uncertainty. The closure of the Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) alone will cost Virginia over 5000 jobs. Representative Gerry Connolly, who represents the district affected by the closure of JFCOM, has called these cuts “arbitrary and capricious” and has called for urgent hearings this week to discuss the proposal.
Secretary Gates is a popular cabinet member who carries a lot of political capital, but no Congressperson with any desires to be reelected could let something like this happen in his or her district without causing a ruckus. Ultimately, the management of the DoD is up to the Administration via Robert Gates and the hearings will most likely consist of political posturing and pandering to their respective constituencies. What remains to be seen is if Gates’s plans are put into action or if the pandering isn’t restricted to Congress.
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