Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently outlined deep Defense Department personnel cuts including the termination of hundreds of civilian jobs, more than 1,000 contractors and as many as 140 generals and admirals.
In a 48-page memo Gates seeks to save $13.6 billion between 2012 and 2016 through staff cuts, as well as reorganizing the defense intelligence community and reducing the activities of the combatant commands. Gates also laid out plans to eliminate 102 general officer and flag officer positions, including 28 associated with operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He listed 23 posts held by one to four-star flag officers that will be filled by lesser-ranking officers.
One of the biggest projected savings comes from cuts to civilian and contractor jobs, which will save approximately $6 billion, according to analysts. The agency targeted to decrease the most contract staff is the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), which was ordered to eliminate 500 contractor support positions in 2011 and another 500 in 2012. That accounts for 11.4 percent of MDA’s total staff of 8,800 and will save a projected $225 million. Analysts believe many contractor jobs that will be eliminated will be picked up by government staff.
"There was a lot of cutting personnel [and] cutting contractors. Those are real savings," said Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. "All they have to do is follow through on it and it looks from this memo that they’re going to. They have no choice."
Yet defense analysts believe the five-year goals aren’t enough to prevent future cuts, as the U.S. continues to be burdened with a $14 trillion debt.
"Gates’ prescriptions are just the opening salvo in a long-running deficit war," said Loren Thompson from the Lexington Institute. "All of these moves are potentially worthwhile and they are emblematic of the types of changes we’ll see year after year as the defense budget tightens up."