Pentagon to Close Va. Military Command, Shed Contractor Jobs

Seeking to make the Pentagon more efficient, Defense Secretary Robert Gates outlined a series of job cuts as the Defense Department eliminates one of the military's 10 major commands, reduces the number of outside contractors by 10 percent in each of the next three years and trims the number of generals and admirals in the ranks.

The belt-tightening measures are part of an ongoing two-year effort to make the Defense Department more efficient by reducing overhead costs, Gates said. That will make it able to do more with less in advance of what Gates foresees as smaller budget increases in coming years.

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The changes are not a budget cut, but an effort to change the way the Pentagon thinks, Gates said, and are "designed to reduce duplication, overhead and excess in the defense enterprise and over time instill a culture of savings and restraint in this department."

Joint Forces Command, based in Norfolk, Va., will be most directly impacted by today's announcement. Employing 5,800 personnel, more than half of them contractors, it has an annual operating budget of $240 million.

Gates said its job responsibilities to promote doctrine and training through the joint military commands could be done by other agencies. He said Joint Forces Command personnel and responsibilities would be absorbed by the Joint Staff, which is based at Pentagon.

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In a statement released after Gates' announcement, Joint Forces Command said there would be "much hard work and analysis in the time ahead" as it carried out its own dissolution.

"While this decision will understandably cause concern among our work force, we will be diligent to make sure we keep distractions to a minimum and continue to provide the best possible support to the warfighter," the statement said. "We have been assured that our work force will receive the best professional career advice and placement assistance available."

Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Dr. Clifford Stanley will meet with Joint Forces Command's leaders Tuesday "about the way ahead."

Senior officials who briefed reporters after Gates refused to provide a number for how many jobs might be lost, saying it was too preliminary to release.

Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, is slated to take over Joint Forces Command after he relinquishes command in Iraq. Today, Gates said Odierno would oversee the dismantlement of Joint Forces Command.

Said Gates, "I told Ray that his assignment at JFCOM is essentially the same -- been the same as his assignment in Iraq, and that is working himself out of a job and then I'll find a new and better one for him."

Not satisfied with current plans to replace 33,000 contractor positions with full time employees by 2015, Gates announced new cuts in the contractor ranks that would reduce their number by 10 percent each of the next three years. Departing contractors will not be replaced.

Gates also announced a 10 percent reduction in intelligence-related contracts, and a three-year freeze on jobs Pentagon-wide. He said he was commissioning "a clean-sheet review to determine what our people should be doing, where and at what level of rank, in keeping with the department's most critical priorities."

That includes some of the Pentagon's most senior military and civilian leaders. Gates said he was freezing the number of senior generals, admirals and top civilian positions at current levels.

He said that since 9/11, the number of generals and admirals had grown in number by 50, and that the number of senior civilian posts had increased by 300. Gates anticipated a reduction in those numbers by "at least" half following a review of their numbers.

Gates said the cost-saving measures announced today have the full support of senior Pentagon leaders as well as the Obama administration.

He acknowledged that pushing through with further reforms likely will mean he will remain in charge of the Defense Department beyond the year-long extension he had agreed to last fall when he became the first secretary of defense to serve under both a Republican and Democratic administration.

"As far as I'm concerned, all I will say is that I'm going to be here longer than either I or others thought," said Gates.

Gates added that the Department would seek to reduce the number of internal reports that consume time and effort.

"This department is awash in taskings for reports and studies, he said, noting that in 1970 the Department produced 37 reports for Congress, a number that had grown to 700 last year.

Those same reports created jobs for contractors, some 200 of whom worked full time just on producing these and other internal reports.

Gates outlined his desire to trim the department's overhead costs in a speech delivered in May at the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kan. At the time. he cautioned that the "gusher of defense spending" in the wake of 9/11 was about to end and that the Defense Department was in store for financial belt-tightening if it was to maintain its current operations with smaller annual budget increases.

In an indication that the reform within the Pentagon isn't finished, Gates said there were "no sacred cows" and that "health care reform [is] on my agenda."

The military's health care costs have grown exponentially in recent years as the premiums for TRICARE have not risen with inflation.

Said Gates, "Everybody knows that we're being eaten alive by health care."

He said the department's annual health care costs were $19 billion in 2001 and are currently at $50 billion at a time when the department's overall budget will likely increase by one percent.

Gates said those costs are "unsustainable."