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The U.S. Defense Department plans to shed one of its 10 major military commands as Defense Secretary Robert Gates tries to pare billions of dollars from the Pentagon’s operating budget, officials briefed on the plan said Monday.
Gates wants to eliminate the Joint Forces Command, long a presumed target for belt-tightening, and also was to announce Monday that he wants to cut the Pentagon’s use of outside contractors by 10 percent next year, The Associated Press has learned. The Virginia-based command trains troops from different services to fight together.
Military and other officials described the planned cuts on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss Gates’ plans ahead of a Pentagon news conference Monday.
Joint Forces Command, with nearly 4,900 employees and annual salaries of more than $200 million, is the largest single cut to be announced Monday.
Gates is not expected to say how much money will be saved by shutting down the command, which holds more than 1 million square feet (almost .1 million sq. meters) of real estate in Suffolk, Virginia, and Norfolk, Virginia. Savings will be offset by the cost of shifting some jobs and roles elsewhere.
The Pentagon already has announced a target of cutting $100 billion over five years. Gates already ordered this year a top-to-bottom paring of the military bureaucracy in search of at least $10 billion in annual savings needed to prevent an erosion of U.S. combat power.
Gates took aim at what he called wasteful business practices and too many generals and admirals, and noted that “overhead” costs chew up as much as 40 percent of the Pentagon’s budget.
Big cuts are essential considering the U.S. economic recession and the likelihood that Congress no longer will give the Pentagon the sizable budget increases it has enjoyed since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Gates and other defense leaders have said.
“The gusher has been turned off and will stay off for a good period of time,” Gates said in May.
The current defense budget, not counting the cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, is $535 billion; the administration is asking for $549 billion for 2011.
Joint Forces Command, or JFCOM, is one of 10 full combatant commands. Most correspond to regions of the world, such as Pacific Command, but others are organized around a concept or mission rather than geography.
JFCOM lists its mission as training troops from all services to work together for specific missions. It tries to make sure equipment used by different services works together, and looks for gaps in capabilities within military services that could be filled by a specially trained joint force.
The command is headed by a four-star military officer, the highest grade currently in use. Marine Gen. James Mattis was its commander until named last month to replace Army Gen. David Petraeus as head of U.S. Central Command. His replacement will be Gen. Ray Odierno, now the war commander in Iraq. Odierno’s job will be to eliminate his own office, officials said.
Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia junior senator and the state’s former governor, said he saw “no rational basis” for dismantling Joint Forces Command because its mission was to impose “greater cooperation and savings among the military services.”
“One thing I learned in the business world is you sometimes have to spend money to save money,” Warner said. “It’s a no-brainer that JFCOM is one of the commands that could use more resources.”
The plan Gates will outline is similar to one suggested last month by the Defense Business Board, a panel of company executives who advise the Pentagon. The board said Gates should cut the number of civilian employees by at least 15 percent. The panel also identified Joint Forces Command as contributing to much of the contractor bloat because it had more contractors than government employees on its payroll.
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