This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been kicking around the federal government long enough to know that budget cuts can happen to you or by you – but you’re better off taking the lead.
Gates this week announced that the Pentagon will trim thousands of jobs and close a major military command in Virginia as part of a plan to rein in huge post-9/11 increases in defense spending.
“The culture of endless money that has taken hold must be replaced by a culture of savings and restraint,” he said Monday.
The savings Gates proposes are significant, if only symbolically.
Shuttering the U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk could cost 6,100 people – a mix of military and civilian personnel and contractors – their jobs. Gates is also looking to downsize the ranks of defense intelligence contractors by 10 percent and to thin the military’s top brass by at least 50 admirals and generals.
The belt tightening is intended to fend off attempts to slash military spending to help balance the federal budget. To date, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as national security concerns, have spared the Pentagon from budget scrutiny.
But it’s only a matter of time before Congress will have to address the defense budget if it is to get handle on deficits. Defense spending now amounts to approximately $700 billion a year. The military spends 13 times more than all civilian foreign policy agencies combined.