Defense board to recommend that Gates eliminate Joint Forces Command

A Pentagon advisory board is expected to recommend that Defense Secretary Robert Gates eliminate the Joint Forces Command as part of a drive to cut Pentagon bloat.

The Defense Business Board (DBB), the Pentagon’s independent board of economic and business advisers, has been tasked by Gates to recommend options for reducing the Pentagon’s overhead, or indirect operating expenses. The board is also expected to offer recommendations on making the Pentagon’s business operations more efficient.

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Gates has launched a sweeping initiative to find about $100 billion in savings over the next five years by reducing unnecessary spending at the Pentagon. The goal is to pour that savings into the fighting force and the modernization of weapons systems.

The Pentagon is expected to pay $200 billion in overhead costs this year — an amount higher than the entire gross domestic product of Israel or the United Arab Emirates, according to the DBB.

The board in October will submit its final and formal short- and longer-term recommendations, which are likely to include the elimination of Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), one of the Department of Defense’s 10 combatant commands, which is headquartered in Norfolk, Va.

DBB has found JFCOM has more contractors on its payroll than military and civilian personnel.

Eliminating JFCOM could save billions of dollars. Overall, the 10 combat commands, which include Central Command, European Command and Africa Command, have a total of 98,000 military, civilian and contractor personnel with yearly expenses of $16.5 billion — more than the entire State Department or NASA budgets.

“Joint Forces Command appears to have its own multiple joint commands,” said Arnold Punaro, who chairs the DBB task force working on the recommendations.

Punaro, who presented the preliminary recommendations to the board on Thursday, is a retired Marine Corps major general and former vice president at the defense giant SAIC. He has also served as a chairman of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves.

Some of the organizations under JFCOM "appear to have almost the same name and mission,” Punaro said in his presentation at the Pentagon.

JFCOM was previously the U.S. Atlantic Command. With the Soviet submarine threat diminished at the end of the Cold War, the command in 1999 was turned into a training, concepts and experimentation combatant command that spans all armed services.

Punaro stressed that both the combatant commands and military departments must be reviewed for redundancies and duplications.

JFCOM is not the only target of the business advisory board. The DBB is also planning to recommend the Pentagon eliminate the Networks and Information Integration (NII) directorate within the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD).

The board is also targeting the OSD. The DBB found that since 2000, the OSD staff has grown by more than 700 people, including during the three and a half years since Gates took over the department. Adding full-time reservists and contractors, the staff count at OSD is more than 5,000, according to DBB. OSD spends about $5.5 billion a year.

In the short term, the DBB is planning to recommend that Gates initiate a hiring freeze at the OSD, the Joint Staff directorates and the combatant commands. It is also expected to recommend that the Pentagon start a head count of all military, civilian and contractor employees and estimate the cost of their employment.

Additionally, the board will urge Gates to start eliminating organizational duplication and overlap, starting with OSD and the Joint Staff, which assists Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen. The shared areas would be public affairs, legislative affairs and personnel oversight.

The board will also recommend that Gates immediately start curtailing all indirect expenses across the Pentagon, such as travel and conference attendance.

The DBB members voted on the preliminary recommendations on Thursday and will be finalizing them over the next couple of months to submit to Gates in October.