Secretary Gates Aims to Cut the Growth of Military Spending

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced on Monday deep cuts to the rate of growth of military spending as the nation enters a period of belt tightening. The cuts include closing a major military command, restricting the use of outside contractors and reducing the number of generals and admirals across the armed forces and are aimed at offsetting the growth of military spending.

From the New York Times:

Mr. Gates said he had ordered a 10 percent reduction in spending on contractors who provide support services to the military, including intelligence-related contracts, and placed a freeze on the number of workers in the office of the secretary of defense, other Pentagon supervisory agencies and the headquarters of the military’s combat commands.

Mr. Gates, who has been promising to cut the Pentagon’s day-to-day budget in order to meet the continuing costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the face of tight fiscal constraints and mounting domestic spending, placed a cap on the number of generals, admirals and senior civilian positions across the Pentagon and the military. 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.

The most pronounced change, in terms of the number of jobs to be eliminated in one blow, was his plan to close the military’s Joint Forces Command, in Norfolk, Va.

The command includes about 2,800 military and civilian positions supported by 3,000 contractors at an annual cost of $240 million. Its responsibilities, which includes programs to force the armed services to work together on the battlefield, will be reassigned, mostly to the military’s Joint Staff.

While large headquarters have been combined and realigned over the years, Pentagon officials could not recall a time in recent history when a major command was shut down and vanished off the books.

Still the cuts outlined by Secretary Gates do not represent an actual decline in year-to-year total spending. The Pentagon’s budget will keep growing in the long run at 1 percent a year after inflation, plus the costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which are not included.

Mr. Gates is calling for the Pentagon’s budget to keep growing in the long run at 1 percent a year after inflation, plus the costs of the war. It has averaged an inflation-adjusted growth rate of 7 percent a year over the last decade (nearly 12 percent a year without adjusting for inflation), including the costs of the wars. So far, Mr. Obama has asked Congress for an increase in total spending next year of 2.2 percent, to $708 billion — 6.1 percent higher than the peak under the Bush administration.

Mr. Gates is arguing that if the Pentagon budget is allowed to keep growing by 1 percent a year, he can find 2 percent or 3 percent in savings in the department’s bureaucracy to reinvest in the military — and that will be sufficient to meet national security needs. In one of the paradoxes of Washington budget battles, Mr. Gates, even as he tries to forestall deeper cuts, is trying to kill weapons programs he says the military does not need over the objections of members of Congress who want to protect jobs.

Over all, Mr. Gates has ordered the armed services and the Pentagon’s agencies to find $100 billion in spending cuts and efficiencies over the next five years: $7 billion for 2012, growing to $37 billion annually by 2016.

At the moment, the administration projects that the Pentagon’s base budget and the extra war spending will peak at $708 billion in the coming fiscal year, though analysts say it is likely that the Pentagon will then need at least $30 billion more in supplemental war financing.

Any takers on a bet that Charles Krauthammer and William Kristol will call these proposals irresponsible?

Just to throw a few hard numbers at you but US military spending now accounts for 4.7 percent of US GDP. During the Bush Administration, US military spending average 3.5 percent of GDP. Before the 9/11 attacks, US military spending was just 2.9 percent of GDP. Military spending last topped 4 percent of GDP in 1991 during the First Gulf War and in the closing hours of the Cold War.

The United States accounts for 47 percent of the world’s total military spending, however the United States share of the global GDP is about 21 percent. Still it is likely that conservative analysts from the Heritage Foundation will rant and rave about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid consuming 8.7 percent of GDP.

Tags: Secretary Robert Gates, Pentagon Budget, Obama Administration, Afghanistan, Iraq, US Military Spending (all tags)

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