By Marina Malenic

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the planned dismantling of a major military command and a significant reduction the department’s use of outside contractors in his ongoing initiative to cut the bloated bureaucracy down to a manageable size.

Joint Forces Command, with nearly 6,000 direct and indirect employees and annual salaries of more than $200 million, was the single largest cut unveiled by Gates during a Pentagon press conference yesterday. It is located in Norfolk, Va.

JFCOM is one of 10 full combatant commands. Most of the organizations correspond to specific regions of the world, while others are organized around a mission. JFCOM’s mission is training troops from all services to work together. It makes certain that equipment is interoperable and looks for gaps in capabilities.

JFCOM is led by a four-star officer. Marine Gen. James Mattis served in the role until he was chosen last month to replace Army Gen. David Petraeus as head of U.S. Central Command (Defense Daily, July 9).

Gen. Ray Odierno, now the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, has been chosen as his replacement. Odierno’s job will be to eliminate his job, Gates said.

Virginia’s congressional delegation released statements opposing elimination of JFCOM. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said there was no “rational basis” for the move because the organization is aimed at finding “savings among the military services.”

“One thing I learned in the business world is you sometimes have to spend money to save money,” Warner said.

Over the past two years, Gates has canceled or cut back scores of weapons programs. His plan now is to cut overhead and waste in the department’s civilian and military bureaucracies.

Defense officials said earlier this summer that the military services will each have to identify $2 billion in annual overhead and “lower-priority” programs in their five-year spending blueprints. The department is ultimately looking to divert $100 billion to current forces and modernization priorities. The armed services, Pentagon agencies and combatant commands were expected to submit cut proposals to Gates last month (Defense Daily, June 7).

“They are all planning to eliminate headquarters that are no longer needed and reduce the size of the staffs that remain,” Gates said yesterday.

The ultimate goal is to convert as much as 2 percent or 3 percent of spending from overhead and transfer those cost savings to modernization accounts. Gates said that a one- percent increase in real defense spending year on year, paired with those savings, would make the department’s growth sustainable. He did not include war costs, which have been paid for in a separate annual spending bill every year since the Iraq invasion, in his estimate.

“To be clear, the task before us is not to reduce the department’s top-line budget,” Gates said. “Rather, it is to significantly reduce its excess overhead costs and apply the savings to force structure and modernization.”

Gates said he has directed a 10 percent reduction in spending on contractors who provide support services to the military. And he said he will freeze the number of defense agency and combatant command manpower positions at the fiscal 2010 levels for three years.

He is also freezing the number of senior Defense Department leaders at fiscal 2010 levels. He has asked for a study to assess the number of positions for general and flag officers, senior executive service employees and political appointees.

“At a minimum, I expect this effort to cut at least 50 general and flag officer positions and 150 senior civilian executive positions over the next two years,” he said.

Gates also wants to take advantage of economies of scale in information technology.

“All of our bases, operational headquarters and defense agencies have their own IT infrastructures, processes and application-ware,” Gates said. “This decentralized approach results in large cumulative costs, and a patchwork of capabilities that create cyber vulnerabilities and limit our ability to capitalize on the promise of information technology.”

The department is also freezing the number of oversight reports being generated and will cut by a quarter the money allocated to this effort. In parallel, Gates directed that boards and commissions that have outlived their usefulness be eliminated, with another corresponding 25 percent of funding for the effort to be cut.

The secretary also directed a 10 percent reduction in funding for intelligence advisory and assistance contracts and a freeze in related senior executive service positions.

Finally, Gates is closing two defense offices–the offices of the assistant secretary of defense for network integration and the Joint Staff’s section for command, control, communications, and computer systems. He also plans to eliminate the Business Transformation Agency.

Asked whether he would ask that more unneeded bases be closed, Gates noted that Congress has made it very difficult to do so.

“But hard is not impossible,” he said, “and I hope Congress will work with us to reduce unnecessary costs in this part of the defense enterprise.”