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DoD targets HQs for 20 percent cuts

Jul. 17, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By ANDREW TILGHMAN and SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (Thomas Brown / Staff)

The Defense Department will cut 20 percent of its civilian and military headquarters funding by the end of the decade, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday.

The planned reductions will affect the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff and the service chiefs’ headquarters staffs, Hagel told reporters at a media roundtable after speaking to workers at a naval air station in Jacksonville, Fla.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense currently has a staff of about 2,000 and the Joint Staff has more than 4,000. No specific targets for personnel cuts were announced. Defense officials said details on those reductions will be determined as implementation plans are drawn up.

The cuts, which will play out from fiscal 2015 to 2019, will save an estimated $1.5 billion, Pentagon spokesman George Little said.

The cuts are among the first details to emerge from the so-called Strategic Choices and Management Review, which Hagel ordered in March to help set spending priorities at a time of intense budget pressure.

“These cuts will be implemented even if Congress lifts sequester-level budget caps,” Little said, referring to the across-the-board spending cuts that took effect in March.

Hagel’s announcement comes as DoD is furloughing some 650,000 civilian workers for 11 days because of sequester-related budget cuts, with another round of across-the-board spending reductions possible in fiscal 2014.

“It’s a very significant step, both symbolically and substantively,” Arnold Punaro, a retired Marine Corps major general, said in a phone interview. Given the Pentagon’s budget crunch, “they are going to have to make reductions and one of the areas that has grown substantially in the last decade is all the DoD overhead accounts.” While uncertain how many jobs are on the chopping block, Punaro said he hoped that the number is in the thousands.

Punaro, now a consultant, headed a Defense Business Board task force that in 2010 recommended sharp cuts in the upper ranks of DoD’s military and civilian bureaucracy. In his view, Pentagon leaders have so far had little success in following through.

While the proposed reduction will take the better part of a decade to implement fully, Punaro thought the long timetable is warranted. Under the scenario unveiled by Hagel, the cuts need to be carried out in “a thoughtful and deliberate way,” he said. Key to the effort, he added, will be putting the mechanisms in place “to make the cuts stick.”

The announcement is the latest in a series of cutbacks that are taking hold within the Defense Department as the outlook dims for near-term relief from the massive, mandatory budget reductions known as sequestration. DoD will have to shave about $52 billion from its planned spending in 2014 if sequestration remains in place.

Hagel addressed another aspect of the bad news forced by sequestration Tuesday when he spoke to a group of civilian aircraft engineers who began furloughs last week at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.

“We now have the very real probability that sequestration will continue,” Hagel said. “We better get on some high ground and start figuring this out because that is what’s coming.”

Hagel was pessimistic about the budget pressures lifting anytime soon.

“We’re just at the front end of what’s coming here,” Hagel said. “The ripple effects of this are very serious and I think we’re just at the front end of people beginning to understand it. It’s reality. It’s in law now. It’s going to happen. I’m being as brutally honest with you as I can be. That’s an obligation that all leaders have, to be straightforward.”

Last week Hagel notified lawmakers on Capitol Hill that sequestration could force the Pentagon to freeze promotions and recruiting, impose civilian layoffs and scale back investment in large weapons programs next year.

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