Gates Announces Plan for Defense Spending Cuts

Yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates held a press conference in which he announced sweeping DoD budget cuts. Gates proposed the dismantling of Joint Forces Command based in Norfolk, VA, which employs about 2,800 military and civilian personnel as well as 3,300 contractors (alone saving about $240 million per year). He also plans to recommend President Obama to terminate two other Pentagon agencies entirely, to impose a 10 percent cut on contractors, and thin the ranks of top-tier generals and admirals by at least 50 people. These are his first plans as to where signficant defense spending cuts will occur.

Secretary Gates’ announcement comes as a response to his earlier stated goal of cutting $100 billion over five years from Defense Department spending, and as a preemptive response to increasing pressure in Congress to cut military spending as a part of overall federal budget reductions. This June, Gates had announced his plan for internal shifts in spending meant to increase efficiency and redirect funds away from excessively bureaucratic programs and towards the basic needs of our troops and their capabilities. This plan was intended to prevent any more dramatic increases in top line defense spending due to aging equipment and weapons and the ongoing costs of supporting two wars. After years of ever-increasing defense spending, the Defense Department is now feeling the pinch of the economic slowdown and the accompanying fiscal constraints, forcing it to reevaluate how it spends its money. At his press conference yesterday, Gates maintained that the Pentagon should be careful not to “repeat the mistakes of the past, where tough economic times or the winding down of a military campaign leads to steep and unwise reductions in defense,” thus justifying overall “sustainable, measured” military spending growth despite the cuts presented yesterday.

We are encouraged by Secretary Gates' committment to finding savings in the defense budget and to getting specific on exactly how those cuts can occur. But we think it's important that these savings are not simply redirected to support DoD-stated higher priorities--like spending on our troops--but that top line DoD spending is reduced overall. Not digging our fiscal hole any deeper is a good first start, but it won't get us out of the ditch.