What “reform” looks like at the Pentagon


Via The Washington Post, a reality check on just how out of touch the Beltway is:

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday that he has ordered a 20 percent cut in the number of top brass and senior civilians at the Pentagon by 2019, the latest attempt to shrink the military bureaucracy after years of heady growth.

Hagel’s directive could force the Pentagon and military command staffs to shed an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 jobs. That’s a tiny percentage of the Defense Department’s 2.1 million active-duty troops and civilian employees, but analysts said it would be a symbolically important trimming of the upper branches of the bureaucracy, which has proved to be resistant to past pruning attempts.

We should be impressed…  a 20% cut in six years. But even those numbers are misleading, as commenter Eerock noted below the article:

They’ll all land positions at contractors unless we cut back spending on defense contracts as well.

At this point in American history, are symbols even worth considering? The entire federal budget needs about a 30% haircut to balance itself, and defense spending is about 21% of that spending. The article cites a Pentagon spokesperson who said the “total savings…”could be in the range” of $1.5 billion to $2 billion over five years.” In a budget literally over 350 times that size – including spending in overseas combat – that’s a pitiful symbolic effort.

Recent history shows Hagel’s efforts probably won’t be successful in saving money:

In 2010, then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates ordered a three-year freeze on staffing in his office, the Joint Staff and the military combatant commands. But a recent analysis by Defense News, a trade publication, found that the size of those staffs nevertheless has grown by about 15 percent.

Gates also ordered the elimination of the Norfolk-based Joint Forces Command, which employed about 6,000 people, including contractors. Ultimately, however, most of those jobs were simply transferred to other parts of the Defense Department, analysts said.

If this is what passes for major reforms in the Beltway, please forgive my lack of praise.