Gates' planned cuts will make only small dent, analysts say

Defense Secretary Robert Gates' proposed cuts and restructuring of the DOD will only lead to modest changes and face resistance in Congress, according to some analysts.

This article was corrected Aug. 19, 2010.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates' proposed cuts of commands, staff and information technology infrastructure through reorganization are well-intended but unlikely to make a significant impact, some analysts say. Gates proposed the cuts to save the department money and protect its resources from further cuts as Congress begins to eye defense programs as sources of savings.

The initiative plans to reduce the DOD budget by $100 billion over the next five years. A component of this will be through significant cuts in the department’s IT infrastructure with the hope that streamlined processes and efficiencies will permit a growth of 2 percent to 3 percent in real defense spending in the future. Gates hopes to use this money to fund future acquisitions programs.

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While analysts laud Gates’ efforts, they also note that many of the cuts, especially those of major commands and personnel, will face stiff resistance from Congress. Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information, noted that none of the money that would supposedly by saved through these efforts would actually leave the defense budget. It would be transferred to other parts of DOD.

Wheeler said he suspects that Gates knows he will lose his fight against cuts and is pursuing a rear-guard action to help DOD survive the cuts that are coming. But the outcome would nullify the proposed efficiencies. “They will not transform the Pentagon into something that can survive significant budget reductions and be anything but the same institution at a lower level of spending,” he said. Wheeler said this will be a disaster because, even with dramatically growing budgets, U.S. forces have become smaller, older and less ready to fight.

Consolidation and contraction will also sound the death knell for many large DOD IT networking efforts. According to the Lexington Institute’s Loren Thompson, writing just days before Gates detailed his proposal, an earlier set of recommendations from the Defense Business Board would mark the end of the concept of network centric warfare championed by Gates' predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld. Thompson noted that service-level projects such as the Navy’s Next Generation Enterprise Network “increasingly look like wasteful efforts to reinvent the wheel — efforts that are doomed to be canceled as Washington turns to deficit reduction and military budgets shrink.”

Daniel Goure, Thompson’s colleague at the Lexington Institute adds that despite calling for greater IT commonality, the elimination of the Joint Forces Command and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Defense Networks and Information Integration, and the Defense Transformation Agency, these proposals — while commendable — are rather modest and not radical enough to save $100 billion. Reducing staff and closing commands will not provide any additional saving because the affected personnel will be assigned to other commands, they will not be permanently fired. “So in the end, very little will be saved,” Goure wrote in his blog.