By Pauline Jelinek, Associated Press
Washington — The Defense Department could shed 60,000 more troops than planned and 50,000 civilian employees without hurting U.S. fighting power, four former members of the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a new report on military strategy and spending.
Nearly $50 billion in budget cuts are recommended in the report released Tuesday and authored by a 17-member panel including two former vice chairmen of the joint chiefs, a former Air Force chief and former Navy chief. Writing for the Stimson Center think tank, the authors suggested cuts would replace future rounds of automatic, across-the-board cuts in the Pentagon’s budget called for in a deficit reduction deal two years ago. The Stimson Center is a nonpartisan global security group in Washington.
The biggest proposed saving — $22.4 billion in the fiscal year starting October next year— would come in cutting overhead such as civilian employees, headquarters staff and contractors as well as reforming pension and health programs, the report said.
“The Defense Department is not a jobs program,” Barry M. Blechman, one of the authors and a Stimson co-founder, said in a Capitol Hill conference where the report was released. He said lawmakers have “stood in the way” of some of the cuts because they mean job losses among constituents.
Another $21.4 billion in savings would come from recommendations for restructuring and shrinking the force. “These would maintain robust space, air, naval and special operations forces and expand investment in cyber capabilities, but reduce active forces best suited for protracted wars,” the think tank said in a statement, referring to cuts suggested mainly in ground troops.
The Pentagon has been looking at cuts in some of the same areas, but on a smaller scale.
For instance, officials already plan to shrink the uniformed force, cutting the Army from a wartime high of 570,000 to 490,000 by 2017. The new report recommends going down to 450,000 soldiers. It also suggests a Marine Corps of 160,000, some 22,000 fewer Marines than is currently planned.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also announced in mid-July a plan to save up to $2 billion over five years by cutting staff and spending in his office, that of the Joint Chief’s chairman and also the Pentagon headquarters offices of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. The Stimson report suggests headquarters cuts that authors think could save $4.5 billion.
The report said other savings would come from the Pentagon’s modernization program, including cutting or delaying some weapons systems.
The former military brass among authors included former vice chairmen, retired Gen. James Cartwright and retired Adm. Bill Owens; former Naval chief, retired Adm. Gary Roughead, and former Air Force chief, retired Gen. Norton Schwartz and former commander in Korea, retired Gen. B.B. Bell.