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Gates launches latest battle against waste… and against Congress

In Washington, you know a decision is controversial when the pushback comes before the announcement. Such is the case with Defense Secretary Robert Gates‘s Monday bombshell that he wants to close Joint Forces Command. The AP broke the news this morning that Gates would announce at a press conference his idea to shutter JFCOM’s gigantic ...

In Washington, you know a decision is controversial when the pushback comes before the announcement. Such is the case with Defense Secretary Robert Gates's Monday bombshell that he wants to close Joint Forces Command.

The AP broke the news this morning that Gates would announce at a press conference his idea to shutter JFCOM's gigantic base in southern Virginia as part of his drive to cut $100 billion from the Pentagon budget. He also announced a 10 percent cutback in the Defense Department's use of contractors each year for the next three years and pledged to cut the size of his own staff and that of the larger Pentagon bureaucracy.

In Washington, you know a decision is controversial when the pushback comes before the announcement. Such is the case with Defense Secretary Robert Gates‘s Monday bombshell that he wants to close Joint Forces Command.

The AP broke the news this morning that Gates would announce at a press conference his idea to shutter JFCOM’s gigantic base in southern Virginia as part of his drive to cut $100 billion from the Pentagon budget. He also announced a 10 percent cutback in the Defense Department’s use of contractors each year for the next three years and pledged to cut the size of his own staff and that of the larger Pentagon bureaucracy.

Today, Gates also directed the elimination of DOD’s Business Transformation Agency and the office of the assistant secretary of defense for networks and information integration (NII). He said the moves were part of his two-year effort to reform the Defense Department and pledged more announcements in the coming months.

"The culture of endless money that has taken hold must be replaced by a culture of savings and restraint," Gates said. "This agenda is not about butting the department’s budget. It’s about reforming and reshaping priorities to ensure that in tough budgetary and economic times, we can focus defense resources where they belong."

But even before Gates spoke, a team of Virginia lawmakers sent out an advisory that they will hold "an urgent press conference" on the announcement Monday at 4 p.m. at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, near where the base is located. Reps. Glenn Nye, J. Randy Forces, Bobby Scott, and Rob Wittman were all scheduled to speak.

"The proposal by the Defense Department to close JFCOM is short-sighted and without merit," Nye said following Gates’s announcement. "I appreciate the department’s attempt to rein in spending, but I have yet to see any substantive analysis to support the assertion that closing JFCOM will yield large savings."

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner released a statement Monday protesting the announcement before it was made.

"I can see no rational basis for dismantling JFCOM since its sole mission is to look for efficiencies and greater cost-savings by forcing more cooperation among sometimes competing military services," Warner said. "In the business world, you sometimes have to spend money in order to save money."

Gates said he would work with JFCOM employees to ease their transition as the base closes and speculated that Virginia could benefit if the savings are reinvested in other local military efforts, such as shipbuilding.

The command currently has about 2,800 military civilian positions and 3,000 contractors, at a cost of about $240 million per year.

JFCOM  has many missions, including the training of units from various military services and managing the complex scheme of deployments and rotations of various units in and out of the warzones in Iraq and Afghanistan. The research centers there work on everything from missile defense to modeling and simulation of counterterrorism operations.

JFCOM was last led by Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, who was recently chosen to succeed Gen. David Petraeus as the head of Central Command. Gen. Ray Odierno, most recently the head of U.S. forces in Iraq, was chosen to replace Mattis and may become the last-ever JFCOM commander. It will take about a year to close the base and Odierno’s mission is to "work himself out of a job," Gates said.

Some of the other announcement Gates made included a freeze on full-time positions at regional commands for three years, a freeze on replacing departing senior-level full-time contractors, and a reduction of the level of senior military and civilian positions pending a review, which Gates predicted would result in cuts of 50 general-level military positions and 150 senior executive service jobs.

Gates will also cut 25 percent of all outside advisory boards and commissions and, in a subtle dig at Congress, place a cap on the number of oversight reports written at the Pentagon. There are 600 people working on such reports, many of which may not be necessary, he said.

He also promised to conduct a "zero-base review" of all defense intelligence programs, meaning an examination of each and every program and its budget. James Clapper, who is moving over to ODNI from the Pentagon, will conduct a similar review of all federal intelligence programs in order to find waste and redundancy, Gates said.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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