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Gates proposes cutting Joint Forces command from defense budget

By Larry Shaughnessy, CNN Pentagon Producer
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Gates: Military cuts planned
  • Defense Department budget cuts could mean the loss of thousands of jobs
  • Virginia senators oppose possible elimination of Joint Forces Command
  • Recession leads to lower proposed increase for next year
  • Defense Secretary Robert Gates announces cuts to hold down overall costs

Washington (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced some far-reaching proposals Monday for restructuring the massive budget at his agency, including getting rid of the U.S. Joint Forces Command.

The cuts could mean a loss of thousands of jobs.

The current Defense Department budget totals more than $530 billion a year, and defense officials believe they need increases of 2 to 3 percent a year to sustain the force structure and meet modernization needs.

However, the recession caused the department to propose a 1 percent budget increase for next year, and the cuts announced Monday were intended to help hold down overall costs.

"We must be mindful of the difficult economic and fiscal situation facing our nation," Gates told reporters at the Pentagon. "As a matter of principle and political reality, the Department of Defense cannot expect America's elected representatives to approve budget increases each year unless we are doing a good job, indeed, everything possible to make every dollar count."

Gate's acknowledged the plan was "politically fraught," and congressional criticism began even before Gates was finished announcing the moves.

The proposal to eliminate the Joint Forces Command, which is based in Norfolk, Virginia, met with opposition from both the state's U.S. Democratic senators.

Sen. Jim Webb released a statement saying getting rid of it "would be a step backward and could be harmful" to the military, while Sen. Mark Warner said: "I can see no rational basis for dismantling" the Joint Forces Command.

The command, which has an annual budget of $240 million and 2,800 military and civilian employees, is one of the department's 10 "combatant commands." Unlike most of the others, it does not have a particular global region of responsibility, such as Central Command that is responsible for the Middle East.

The command is made up of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who are trained and equipped to work together in response to the needs of other combatant commands. It grew out of the old Atlantic Command and became the Joint Forces Command in 1999.

Gen. James Mattis had been commander until he was recently picked to become Centcom commander. Gen. Raymond Odierno, currently head of U.S. forces in Iraq, has been picked to run the Joint Forces Command.

"I told Ray that his assignment at JFCOM is essentially the same as his assignment in Iraq, and that is working himself out of a job." Gates said.

Eliminating the Joint Forces Command is just one of a wide-ranging series of proposals presented by Gates. Others include:

-- Eliminating some of the 65 military boards and commissions to cut the budget for them by 25 percent in fiscal year 2011;

-- A review of all Defense Department intelligence to eliminate needless duplication;

-- Eliminating the Defense Department's Business Transformation Agency, which has day-to-day oversight of acquisition programs that would be handled by others in the department;

-- Reducing funding for service support contractors by 10 percent a year for each of the next three years;

-- Freezing the number of jobs in the Officer of the Secretary of Defense, the Defense Agencies and Combatant Commands at current levels;

-- Seeking to stop "brass creep," a term former Sen. John Glenn used for situations when higher-ranking officers were doing jobs that lower ranking officers could handle. To address that problem, Gates is ordering a freeze on the number of generals, admirals and senior civilian officials at current levels.

Gates was adamant that the Pentagon must change its way of thinking about money.

"The culture of endless money that has taken hold must be replaced by a culture of savings and restraint," Gates said. "Toward this end, I am directing that any new proposal or initiatives, large or small, be it policy, program or ceremony, come with a cost estimate. That price tag will help us determine whether what we are gaining or hope to gain is really worth the cost."