Gates urges overhaul of bloated military bureaucracy Makua plan supported
By ROBERT BURNS
ABILENE, Kan. — Warring against waste, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday he is ordering a top-to-bottom paring of the military bureaucracy in search of at least $10 billion in annual savings needed to prevent an erosion of U.S. combat power.
He took aim at what he called a bloated bureaucracy, wasteful business practices and too many generals and admirals, and outlined an ambitious plan for reform that's almost certain to stir opposition in the corridors of Congress and Pentagon.
"The Defense Department must take a hard look at every aspect of how it is organized, staffed and operated — indeed, every aspect of how it does business," he said in a speech at the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in the former commander in chief's home town. Gates, also a Kansas native, addressed a crowd of about 300 from the steps of the library at a ceremony marking the 65th anniversary of Nazi Germany's surrender in World War II.
The library was a fitting setting for Gates to caution against unrestrained military spending. In his farewell address to the nation from the Oval Office in January 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously warned of the "grave implications" of having built during that war an enormous military establishment and a huge arms industry that could wield undue influence in American society.
"Eisenhower was wary of seeing his beloved republic turn into a muscle-bound, garrison state — militarily strong but economically stagnant and strategically insolvent," Gates said. He recalled Eisenhower's impatience with a mindset within the military that often sought to add new weaponry without regard for cost or efficiency — "pile program on program," as he once put it.
Gates said he had recently come to the conclusion about the urgent need for big cuts in light of the recession and the likelihood that Congress no longer will give the Pentagon the sizable budget increases it has enjoyed since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"The gusher has been turned off and will stay off for a good period of time," he said.
In earlier remarks to reporters, Gates said it was clear that defense budgets will be tight "for as far into the future as anyone can see."
The current defense budget, not counting the cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, is $535 billion; the administration is asking for $549 billion for 2011.
Gates used tough talk to stress that he will personally oversee the effort to reshape the Pentagon bureaucracy, and that he won't be denied.
"We're not going to just roll over to preserve programs that we think we don't need — regardless of where the pressure is coming from," he told reporters Friday.
Pressed to say whether he would remain as defense secretary next year to wage the budget battle with Congress, he replied, "We'll get this done." Gates has told Obama he will remain at the Pentagon through 2010, but his future beyond that is unclear.
Gates said it is highly unlikely that the Pentagon will get Congress to approve budgets in the coming years that grow enough to sustain the current size of the military.