By PAUL McLEARY
WASHINGTON — After more than a decade of almost constant expansion, the Pentagon’s policy-making apparatus may be about to experience the bite of the budget-cut fever that is gripping Washington.
On Wednesday, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Miller is expected to hold a “town hall” meeting with staff where he will announce a new initiative that could slash a full 30 percent of civilian policy contractors, a Pentagon official told Defense News.
In a meeting with staff on June 13, the official — who spoke on the condition of anonymity — said Miller used the term “reduction in force” for the first time. That set off alarm bells in the policy shop since the potential trimming would be tied to performance review evaluations that might make the cuts difficult, and that will force people out rather than through reassignments, or through the end of contracts.
But that isn’t the only potential change that is being considered for the large policy-making community at the Pentagon.
The change that carries the heaviest consequences revolves around eliminating the Assistant Secretary of Defense (ASD) for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs, which was created in 2003 to coordinate domestic agencies that work on homeland preparedness, as well as to provide oversight of the US military’s Northern and Southern Commands.
Tellingly, the office has been without a director since January, when Paul N. Stockton stepped down, although Todd Rosenblum runs the office as an acting ASD. A Pentagon spokesman said June 17 that there is no new information available on making Rosenblum permanent, or on finding another official to head the office.
But even if the office is shuttered, the work that it does with domestic agencies and with partners in Central and South America won’t simply vanish. Instead, plans call for the shop to be more closely aligned with the strategic “rebalance” to the Pacific, and to be subsumed within other existing policy offices in the Pentagon.
The thinking is that some elements would be eaten up by the ASD for Asian & Pacific Security Affairs — since many Central and South American countries border the Pacific and do extensive trade with Asian partners — while other functions would move to the Global Strategic Affairs or the International Security Affairs desks.
“Nobody is saying, ‘What can we drop?’” the official said, explaining that only some duplication of effort might be eliminated.
But such a huge reduction in the number of civilian policy makers across the Pentagon policy apparatus would have serious consequences on who is able to craft security policy, and who has a seat at the decision-making table.
“If civilians are [let go], someone’s still got to look at policy” the official said, adding that with less Pentagon staff, the armed services and the global combatant commanders would likely step in to take a larger role in crafting policy.
Another upshot of shuttering the Homeland ASD office would be that the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and Force Development would be bumped up to an assistant secretary position, which in the Washington power structure is a big boost in the pecking order.
It would mean that the office would for the first time be forced to answer to Congress, and its director would have to be approved by Capitol Hill lawmakers.
Christine Wormuth took over at the helm of the strategy office in August 2012, after serving a stint on President Obama’s national security staff. Wormuth is also rumored to be next in line to take over for Kathleen Hicks, who is vacating her position as second in command at the Pentagon’s policy shop.
Wormuth’s office already carries some serious weight in policy circles, since “in reality she is probably in many ways the most powerful” of the office chiefs under James Miller’s direction, the Pentagon source said, because her office has the ability to reach across all of the ASDs.
These initiatives come just as the Pentagon wraps up its Strategic Choices and ManagementReview, which promises to shake up the size and structure of the Pentagon. Little is known about the study, which Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered in April, but defense officials continue to insist that it is complete, and that it will offer an unsparing assessment of how the Pentagon does business.