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Gates’ cuts: Much ado about nothing

August 11, 2010

Monday Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced the next step in Pentagon cost-saving measures by outlining a plan to trim $100 billion in defense spending over the next five years through a combination of cutting programs, contracts senior-level positions, and even a major command. The proposal was good for news reporters across the defense sector but those who have followed Secretary Gates’ tenure and his thoughts on budgets and moving DoD forward shouldn’t find any of his proposals as shocking.

The closure of a major command (United States Joint Forces based in Norfolk, Va.) seems to be the most drastic of the swath of cuts planned, but in reality the decision to cut defense contracting by ten percent presented the biggest blow, and was even evidenced by stock market dips for major defense contractors including SAIC, Lockheed Martin and Mantech. Throughout recent years and especially since 9/11 we’ve seen our defense architecture bloated by contracting elements, many with duplicate missions and over-inflated costs.

I can support most all of Gates’ budget savings measures, even the closure of JFCOM, because, at the end of the day, it’s a mission that could, with some effort, be rolled into the Joint Staff or other major command missions. What I do take issue with is the political posturing that roars to the surface the moment the cuts are announced. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are all too eager to take the defense budget and turn it into a political opportunity, and I happen to think that concern for our Soldiers and the needs of the military community is an aside to serving constituencies, donors, and personal pork projects.

And I won’t even take Secretary Gates’ requests as Soldier-focused altruism. If I learned nothing from my time spent working at the Pentagon, and the seven years I’ve lived in Washington, D.C., it’s that a cabinet member never makes a decision without considering the politics. And Secretary Gates’ proposal, while quite specific in some ways remains all too vague in others. Gates pointed out that the cuts were not designed to trim the overall defense budget but simply to redirect the money towards more important programs or spending. Exactly what programs he’s talking about, I’d like to get a full report on before signing off on this, and Representative Buck McKeon is asking for the same thing. (My guess is he’ll get his report first). 

I know it’s ridiculous, and a person who has lived in Washington and spent time working at the Pentagon shouldn’t be allowed such thoughts, but sometimes I dream of a wonderful world of bunnies and butterflies, sunshine and star dust where decisions are made for the good of the American people, their security, and their heroes serving in uniform. I dream that decisions that will not just impact livelihoods, but lives, would be considered in some kind of non-partisan, heartless, service-oriented fashion.

Sigh.

So, please, Secretary Gates, members of congress, bureaucrats across Washington currently staffing this process on Capitol Hill or in the E-ring, as you build your flow charts and proposals, as you sit across tables debating the finer points of this plan, I urge you to think about what is truly the best way to spend our federal dollars in a way that will aid our national defense. Cuts for the sake of cuts are useless Redirecting funds is even more meaningless if it’s not carefully planned. I’m not dumb enough to envision they’re actually going to give that tax money back to me (there’s a Democratic president, and a congressional majority, after all – I can’t even keep my Bush tax cut), but I do hope that any “savings” would be redirected to programs that DO make a difference, and not to fund a further stimulus or social agenda. Or just to move it into another congressional district or pork project.

And on another sad and yet unsurprising note, one reporter claims to have broken the news of the planned cut to Joint Forces Command public affairs – and then he gleefully tweeted about it. Which just goes to show that some things in the military will never change – the public affairs officer is always the last to know.

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