Gates on DoD Cost-savings Review: ‘People Need to Make Conscious Choices’ about Implications

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, Photo: DoD/Cherie Cullen

Soon-to-retire Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters yesterday efforts to wring even more cost-savings from the Defense Department must avoid “hollowing out” the armed forces and involve a tough, public discussion about the tradeoff between spending cuts and military preparedness.

In a speech last month on the deficit, President Barack Obama announced a new goal of an additional $400 billion in Pentagon cost-savings, beyond even the departmentwide efficiencies Gates has championed.

Gates’ original plan for departmental cost-savings — his efficiency initiatives — were driven by a desire to cut overhead, including curtailing or canceling unneeded weapons systems.

“The overarching goal of these efforts was to carve out enough budget space to preserve and enhance key military capabilities in the face of declining rates of budget growth,” he said.

But the latest round of cuts has initiated a “fundamental review of America’s military missions, capabilities and security role around the world,” Gates told reporters yesterday.

And even with these new ambitious cuts, Gates said the goal is still to preserve the military’s capabilities to meet “crucial” national security priorities.

To do anything less would amount to a “a hollowing out of the force,” Gates said, from a lack of training, maintenance and equipment. “We’ve been there before in the 1970s and in the 1990s,’ he added, when military slowdowns and budget cuts set the military back.

The review process, guided by the National Security Review, the National Defense Strategy and the Quadrennial Defense Review, among a host of others, will focus on “strategic  policy choices, first, and corresponding changes in the DoD budget, second,” Gates said.

The review will take a four-step process to determine the additional cost-savings:

1)  Identify additional efficiencies from “bureaucratic excess” and overhead.

2) Review  programs, including healthcare, military pay and acquisition, that have the potential to drive up costs.

3) Examine missions and capabilities that are of “marginal scope.”

4) Consider alternatives to the QDR strategy that would allow for reductions in force structure or capabilities.

Gates called this last effort “the hardest category, strategically, and, I would say, intellectually.”

“If we’re going to cut the military, if we’re going to reduce the resources and the size of the U.S. military, people need to make conscious choices about what the implications of that are for the security of the country, as well as for the operations that we have around the world,” Gates said.

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