WASHINGTON – Facing growing pressure to cut military spending, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Monday ordered the closing of a major Pentagon headquarters, restrictions on use of contractors and reductions in the number of generals and admirals.
The belt-tightening moves, Gates said a Pentagon news conference, were aimed at eliminating duplication and reducing overhead to free up funds for military operations at a time of growing fiscal constraints.
“My greatest fear is that in economic tough times that people will see the defense budget as a place to solve the nation’s deficit problems,” Gates said.
Pentagon officials would not supply estimates of the cost-savings from the steps announced Monday.
After a decade of rapidly increasing defense spending, the Pentagon is facing growing calls from outside commissions and even some members of Congress for cuts in its budget.
“These steps don’t go that far to reach the kind of savings he is going to need in the next five years, but it’s a start,” said Todd Harrison, a defense budget expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a policy research organization.
But by trimming the Defense Department’s civilian and military bureaucracies, Gates is hoping to convince Congress and outside critics that the Defense Department is eliminating waste on its own to head off future reductions in military spending.
The most immediate steps announced by Gates were a 10 percent reduction in spending on contractors who provide support services to the military, and elimination of Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va.
The command, which works to improve cooperation among the military services, costs roughly $240 million a year and has roughly 2,800 military and civilian positions, along with 3,000 contractors. Its duties will be reassigned, mostly to the military’s Joint Staff.
Gates also announced a freeze on personnel in the office of the secretary of defense, other Pentagon agencies and the headquarters of the military’s regional commands. He said the Defense Department should try to cut at least 50 general and admiral posts and 150 senior civilian positions over the next two years.
He also ordered the closing of a Pentagon office with responsibility for integrating information technology.