By Maggie Ybarra
A group of top Air Force generals will gather behind closed doors at Andrews Air Force Base on Thursday to hash through ways to cut 3,400 positions from the service as part of a proposal to shave $1.6 billion from the Pentagon’s budget over the coming five years, defense officials said this week.
The proposed cuts, which would require congressional approval, have emerged as a source of internal bickering and hand-wringing among Air Force brass in recent weeks — mainly because they involve a plan to consolidate all of the service’s base operations under the umbrella of a single new operations center.
The Washington Times first reported this month that several Air Force generals privately voiced frustration about the plan, which effectively would strip them of their authority to oversee operations, spending and decision-making at individual bases.
Pentagon sources have told The Times that there is still uncertainty over where the central operations center will be, but Joint Base Andrews is among the possibilities. Unease apparently is growing over which aspects of the Air Force are most likely to bear the brunt of the job cuts under the plan.
One Defense Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the “pre-decisional” nature of the plan, said 3,400 jobs will be cut. Although that number may seem like a small portion of the Air Force’s more than 610,000 members, it represents a potentially sticky decision for the service’s top brass.
Internal emails shared with The Times this week show that Air Force Undersecretary Eric Fanning and Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry Spencer are slated to meet at Andrews on Thursday to examine the roles, responsibilities and missions they believe should fall under the proposed base operations center.
Along with several other Air Force generals, they essentially will be narrowing jobs that overlap and may be cut, according to the Defense Department official.
In order for Thursday’s discussions to be effective, according to one of the emails shared with The Times, senior Air Force officials have sought to compile information about “the magnitude of personnel” involved with each of the functions that have been identified for the proposed center.
As a result of the internal disagreements about the center, the Air Force missed a self-imposed deadline for notifying Congress about the proposal.
The Air Force intended to establish the framework for the center by Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year. It is unclear whether that timeline has changed in light of the internal fighting.
Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek confirmed Tuesday that the date was in flux because the service has “made no decisions yet.”
“The longer you wait on decisions, the more those dates tend to move around,” she said.
Ms. Stefanek noted that various center start dates are circulating in the ongoing base operations consolidation discussion because there are “action officers all over the Air Force proposing dates to leaders.”
Nothing has been set in stone, she said.