House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) released a plan last week to cut $25 billion in spending at the Pentagon, largely through reductions in what the lawmaker says are duplications and inefficiencies within the sprawling department.
The plan focuses on the so-called fourth estate – the 28 agencies and field activities within the Pentagon that provide administrative support for the armed services while employing about 800,000 civilians (600,000 of whom are contractors) at a cost of more than $100 billion a year.
Thornberry wants to eliminate seven of the 28 – the Defense Technology Security Administration, the Defense Information Systems Agency, the Defense Technical Information Center, the Office of Economic Adjustment, the Test Resources Management Center, the Defense Human Resources Activity, and the Washington Headquarters Services – and if $25 billion in savings are not seen by 2021, most of the remaining agencies would receive automatic budgets cuts of 25 percent.
Thornberry also wants to create a chief management officer for the Defense Department, who would be tasked with eliminating duplicative functions on an ongoing basis.
Critics, however, are questioning the plan’s viability. Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), the ranking member on the committee, said that while he agreed that there were savings to be found among the support agencies, Thornberry’s proposal could damage the Pentagon’s information infrastructure and degrade the department’s operational capabilities.
Miriam Pemberton of the Institute for Policy Studies pointed out that one of the agencies Thornberry wants to eliminate, the Office of Economic Adjustment, plays a vital role in military base closures, which are a potentially significant source of savings, given the Pentagon’s claim that 22 percent of its military bases will be unnecessary by 2019.
And Gordon Adams of the Stimson Center warned that Thornberry risks “getting rolled by the services” as he eliminates department-wide agencies that were originally created to reduce duplication and waste within each branch of the military. “The services would love to divide up some of these larger functions among themselves,” Simpson wrote, “rolling back consolidation, regaining funds they once controlled —and recreating the management inefficiencies that led to centralization in the first place.”