After downing the drone medal, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel now has his sights set on downsizing the Defense Department. Barely three months into his tour as defense secretary, Hagel seems determined to make his presence felt – within and beyond the Pentagon.
If Hagel has his way, he will have succeeded where other defense secretaries have failed. For example, in August, 2010, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates tried to pare down the Pentagon. He said, “Constraining the personnel available is one way to force this painful but necessary process to take place. Therefore, I am directing a freeze on the number of Office of the Secretary of Defense, defense agency and combatant command positions, at the FY2010 levels, for the next three years.”
Despite Gates‘ efforts to cut the Defense Department’s bureaucracy, the size of the Pentagon’s far-flung headquarters organizations actually grew by more than 15 percent between 2010 and 2012, according to a Military Times analysis.
So much for the Gates freeze.When it comes to our top national defense bureaucracy, no one is more adept at melting good intentions into bad results. The truth is defense secretaries come and go, but the bureaucracy remains largely intact – and entrenched – zealously guarding its turf against all threats to pare it down.
The closure of the U.S. Joint Forces Command is a classic case of just how clever and resilient the defense bureaucracy can be. Although Gates ordered the command to be closed in 2010, guess what? Some 2,500 of the personnel cuts caused by the closing ended up being added to the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. As retired Marine Corps Reserve Major General Arnold Punaro so aptly noted, “They say they closed JFCOM. They did not close. ... They added them to the Joint Staff.”
Gen. Punaro is right. In 2010, the Joint Staff had 1,286 members. In 2012, that number had ballooned to 4,244 – a 230 percent increase in just two years. Meanwhile, the Office of the Secretary of Defense increased from 2,433 to 2,665 – a 9.5 percent increase.
The Defense Department also operates six combatant commands, giving it a global reach and some military presence in over 160 countries. Each of these organizations is commanded by a four-star general or admiral, with headquarters staffs ranging from 1,687 for Northern Command to 4,147 for Pacific Command.
Clearly, Secretary Hagel faces huge challenges as he takes on the hydra-headed defense establishment – and its friends in high places, including the “military-industrial complex” President Eisenhower warned us about in his farewell address in 1961.
To Eisenhower’s “M-I-C” warning, I would add a “C” for Congress to that alliance. Way too many members in both houses and both parties favor bloated bureaucracies that help them “bring home the bacon” – fat and all – to the folks back home.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at email@example.com.