On Capitol Hill, Skepticism About Pentagon 'Efficiencies' After Gates' Departure
The expected departure of Defense Secretary Robert Gates sometime this year is raising concerns on Capitol Hill about whether his successor will be able to deliver$100 billion worth of "efficiencies" — a major initiative by the current Pentagon chief to boost funding for weapons modernization.
“I’m very skeptical." Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, told reporters Feb. 17 during a breakfast meeting in Washington. Not knowing who will succeed Gates, it it hard to predict whether an incoming secretary will pursue these money-saving efforts as aggressively as Gates has, he said. “We will have to keep oversight to make sure they do this.”
Last month, Gates announced that the department had identified $154 billion in potential savings — from pay freezes and contract spending reductions, as well as cuts to to wasteful programs and command closures. About $78 billion from that total would be taken off the Pentagon’s 2012-2016 budget top line to help alleviate pressures on the federal deficit. The remaining $90 billion would be reinvested into weapon modernization programs.
Smith lauded Gates’ efforts. “I think he’s absolutely committed to getting these efficiencies. I think he’d get more if he could get around some pressures in the department,” he said.
But he worries that the momentum that Gates has built up on this front may very well run out when he departs. “I don’t know whether or not I’ll be able to trust who comes after him or whether or not they will follow through,” he said.
Many of the efficiencies that have been identified are conditional, and even if they do come to fruition, the department would not gain most of the actual dollars until 2016.
Still, Smith vowed to do whatever he can to help Pentagon officials stay the course.
“I intend to be as supportive as I possibly can of that and not micromanage from the Hill,” he said.
Lawmakers have ways to hold Pentagon officials accountable for implementing the efficiencies, but Smith conceded that it will be difficult to do so.
“We have to empower the managers there to hopefully make the right decisions and move forward on that,” he said. “It’s hard for Congress to micromanage day-in and day-out efficiencies at the Pentagon. What I hope we will do is we will support them, and we will push back.”