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Gates to close JFCOM, cut gen. officer billets

By Andrew Tilghman - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Aug 9, 2010 16:36:18 EDT

Defense Secretary Robert Gates killed U.S. Joint Forces Command on Monday with the announcement that the Norfolk, Va.-based command will be shuttered “in about a year” as part of the latest round of cost-cutting measures.

The four-star command, home to 2,800 service members and employing more than 3,000 contractors, will pass along its primary mission — managing forces and coordinating deployments — to the office of the Joint Staff, Gates said at a Pentagon news briefing.

The move is part of a broader cost-cutting effort that Gates said is vital to maintaining the military’s current size and capabilities. Gates began a cost reduction effort last year by ending the Air Force’s F-22 program and trying to eliminate an alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Gates also wants to cut 50 flag-officer billets in the next two years. He noted that the total number of jobs for generals and admirals has grown by about 100 since 2001.

The money-saving measures unveiled will have little immediate impact on most service members. But Gates said changes to the military’s Tricare health care system — either increases in fees or service cutbacks — may be on the horizon.

“There are no sacred cows, and health care cannot be an exception to that,” Gates said.

Gates also called for the elimination of two little-known agencies that he said were redundant and unnecessary: the Business Transformation Agency, created in 2006 to overhaul the Pentagon’s business practices, and office of the Networks and Defense Integration, or NII, that was set up in 2003 to oversee communications technology programs.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Rob Lyon, a spokesman for U.S. Joint Forces Command, said there will be “much hard work and analysis” in the near future for the command. “We will do the best we can to provide solid data on which to base decisions.”

He also said the command has been given assurances that “our work force will receive the best professional career advice and placement assistance available.”

That assistance will begin with a Tuesday visit by Dr. Clifford Stanley, the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, “to talk with our leadership about the way ahead,” Lyon said. “While this decision will understandably cause concern among our workforce, we will be diligent to make sure we keep distractions to a minimum and continue to provide the best possible support to the warfighter.”

At his news briefing, Gates rattled off a list of cost-cutting efforts that will freeze budgets for many headquarters staffs and reduce the number of contractors across the military.

“Headquarters and support bureaucracies, military and civilian alike, have swelled to cumbersome and top-heavy proportions, growing over-reliant on contractors, and grown accustomed to operating with little consideration to cost,” Gates said.

The measures are politically essential to avert more severe budget cutbacks if lawmakers on Capitol Hill try to balance the budget on the back of the military, Gates said.

“My greatest fear is that in economically tough times, that people will see [the defense budget as] a place to solve the nation’s deficit problems,” he said.

Staff writer William H. McMichael contributed to this story.


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Thomas Brown / Staff Among the cuts announced Aug. 9 by Defense Secretary Robert Gates: elimination of 50 flag-officer billets by 2012. He also said Tricare users may see fee increases or service cutbacks. “There are no sacred cows,” Gates said.

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