Army’s Top Civilian Says Portions of the Budget Ripe for Cuts
The Army has become bloated after a decade of steadily rising spending. Areas that are ripe for savings have been identified, but final decisions are still on hold, said the service’s top civilian leader Secretary John M. McHugh.
As an era of ever-increasing budgets comes to an end, the Army already has pinpointed targets for potential cuts, Hugh told reporters Nov. 2. “I started that process even before the currentbudget realitycame into focus,” McHugh said. “It was long overdue that the Army took an opportunity to look at how it does its business.”
But like everyone else in Washington, the Army is playing the waiting game.
Even though McHugh might have found big pockets of fat in the Army’s budget, no specific actions to cut force structure or procurement programs are likely to happen for months, or years, until the current stalemate in Congress is settled and the Pentagon’s long-term budget is approved.
Considerable analysis has been conducted within the Army in an effort to trim waste, McHugh said. “I have signed nine efficiency directives” that by 2017 could save $10 billion a year, he said.
But much bigger savings would be needed for the Army to adjust to even modestly smaller or zero-growth budgets in the coming years. Even more draconian cuts would be required if the deficit-reduction “super committee” fails to reach a deal by year’s end and triggers deeper cuts to federal spending that would affect both defense and non-defense agencies.
Under any of these scenarios, the Army will be expected to make some reductions to the size of its uniformed force, civilian work force, contractor support services and procurement programs.
McHugh acknowledged that there are obvious targets for spending cuts. “We hired a lot of contractors” after 9/11, he said. “They did yeoman’s work for us. But after a decade it was time to relook” at whether they are needed, he said.
Earlier this year, McHugh also imposed restrictions on hiring civilian workers under the federal government’s “insourcing” program to replace contractors with civil servants. With budget cuts on the horizon, McHugh saw that effort as unaffordable.
The active-duty force is expected to shrink from 570,000 to 520,000 by 2016, but even the smaller number may be challenged. Asked to explain a “strategic rationale” for a force of 520,000, McHugh said that issue still under review.
It is possible that the Army may decide to reallocate duties that are currently performed by the active-duty force to the Reserves or the National Guard. “We are doing a ‘total Army analysis,’” he said. “The process will tell us the right mix between the active component and the reserve components.”
As to how he would go about setting priorities if and when the budget ax comes down, McHugh said that decisions are on hold until the super committee finalizes recommendations and Congress passes a budget.
“We can’t see bottom,” McHugh said. “We don’t have a budget … [and] until we do, those decisions are difficult to make.”
For the same reason, the future of weapon programs also might remain in limbo for some time. Depending on the level of cuts mandated, up to 50 percent of spending reductions could come more “modernization” accounts, McHugh said.
But while he echoedDefense Secretary Leon Panetta’s rhetoricabout the damage that procurement cuts would cause the defense industry, McHugh also recognized that there is waste in Pentagon procurement programs that should receive more scrutiny. Case in point is the fact that all four branches of the U.S. military have their own fleets of drones and surveillance aircraft.
As otherArmy leaders have pointed out in the past, Mc Hugh said the ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) segment of the Pentagon’s weapons portfolio is a “good area for reexamination.”
The services have similar “platforms that [we could] harmonize on a joint level and not duplicate,” said McHugh. “We have to rationalize every dollar we spend.”