Critics have long called for DoD to slash their excessive headquarters and command staffs, which have grown dramatically since 9-11.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Marty Dempsey last week said they would cut their staff budgets — and those of combatant commands — by 20 percent, saving up to $2 billion through 2019.
More important than the savings is the symbolism of the gesture: Leading by example at a time when the entire military faces dire cuts to training, operations, combat power and weapons programs.
Now comes the hard part.
First, it’s not enough to reduce people. Getting rid of pointless work and offices is also essential. To pinpoint expendable work, department leaders must take a dispassionate and critical view of their sprawling enterprise. The Defense Department is less a department and more a sprawling conglomeration of self-supporting, often overlapping entities, many of which have expanded their roles and functions over the years well beyond their original mandates: the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, nine combatant commands, numerous supporting commands, 17 Defense agencies and 10 Defense field activities, not to mention the military services.
Second, staff cuts must be made carefully to ensure DoD retains the best people, not just the longest serving, a challenge because federal personnel rules are heavily weighted toward seniority. As DoD shrinks, retaining top talent, and focusing them on the right tasks, must be the priority.
Third, contractor employees comprise a large proportion of the department’s various headquarters staffs. Certainly, contractor employees are vital to the department’s operation, but which ones? The problem is that contractor employees cannot now be managed in a strategic way as can their DoD-employee counterparts. And that is a problem in today’s environment where strategic cuts and reorganizing are needed.
Department leaders must get a more solid grasp on the size and nature of its contractor workforce to better include this important segment of the department’s workforce in future decision-making.
Fourth, these cuts should be completed sooner than 2019 given the immediacy of the sequester’s budget pressures.
Hagel and Dempsey have taken an important step toward reforming America’s military establishment.
Their next goal should be pruning staffs worldwide as they eliminate unnecessary organizations and streamline what’s left.