SecDef: Expect ‘Trimming, Reducing, Some Eliminations’ in 2021 Budget

By Marcus Weisgerber

November 11, 2019

NEW YORK — Pentagon officials are “making good progress” in their review of bureaucracy intended to cut fat and shift funds to high-priority efforts to counter Chinese and Russian military advancements, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Monday.

There’s a lot of trimming, reducing, some eliminations and we’ll go through that,” Esper said Monday on a flight from Washington to New York where he met with business leaders.

The savings are expected to be revealed in the Pentagon’s next budget request, which is typically sent to Congress in February.

As Army Secretary, Esper was known for his “Night Court” review, credited with freeing up $25 billion over five years for higher-priority efforts. Just last week, Gen. Dave Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, said his service has undertaken a similar review that would shift $30 billion between fiscal years 2021 and 2025.

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[A]ll the services need to go through this so we can focus on the National Defense Strategy and…get rid of legacy programs and activities and pivot toward the future,” Esper said. That strategy called for the U.S. to prioritize great power competition.  

Esper’s latest review is targeting the Pentagon’s bureaucratic functions, known as the “fourth estate.”

There are a lot of parts of the fourth estate that are in law,” Esper said. “We will probably have recommendations for the Congress to consider as again ways to find efficiency to help us pivot toward the National Defense Strategy.”

Esper said he spent six hours working on the review last week.

Come January, we’re going to start a different approach where we kind of do much more of a blank sheet approach,” he said, hinting that the process could become an annual exercise.

By Marcus Weisgerber // Marcus Weisgerber is the global business editor for Defense One, where he writes about the intersection of business and national security. He has been covering defense and national security issues for more than a decade, previously as Pentagon correspondent for Defense News and chief editor of Inside the Air Force. He has reported from Afghanistan, the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, and often travels with the defense secretary and other senior military officials.

November 11, 2019