Trimming from the Top: Hagel Announces Staff Reductions in His Own Office

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel listens to a speaker before testifying on Syria to the House Armed Services Committee on September 10, 2013.
National Journal
Sara Sorcher
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Sara Sorcher
Dec. 4, 2013, 9:51 a.m.

De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel donned his oth­er hat as the Pentagon’s downs­izer-in-chief on Wed­nes­day, an­noun­cing his latest ef­forts to cut spend­ing and per­son­nel— this time, in his own of­fice.

“With the Pentagon con­front­ing his­tor­ic­ally steep and ab­rupt spend­ing re­duc­tions after a dec­ade of sig­ni­fic­ant budget growth,” Hagel said at a press con­fer­ence, “there is a clear need, and an op­por­tun­ity, and I em­phas­ize op­por­tun­ity, to pare back over­head and stream­line headquar­ters across the De­part­ment.” 

About 2,400 mil­it­ary and ci­vil­ian per­son­nel work on Hagel’s staff, in the Of­fice of the Sec­ret­ary of De­fense; by fisc­al year 2019, that num­ber will drop to less than 2,200 per­son­nel. The re­duc­tions are ex­pec­ted to save about $1 bil­lion.

Con­sid­er­ing the scale of cuts the Pentagon is fa­cing — some $37 bil­lion this year, and po­ten­tially a total of $500 bil­lion if the across-the-board cuts known as se­quest­ra­tion re­main on the books in the com­ing years — the cut­backs ap­pear neg­li­gible. However, the fact that the De­fense sec­ret­ary is per­son­ally tak­ing steps to re­shape elite branches with­in the Pentagon’s labyrinth bur­eau­cracy is not­able, even in this era of fisc­al aus­ter­ity. These re­duc­tions are only a “first step,” Hagel stressed, in the de­part­ment’s ef­forts to “re­align de­fense spend­ing to meet new fisc­al real­it­ies and stra­tegic pri­or­it­ies.”

The dir­ect­ive comes on the heels of Hagel’s or­der this sum­mer that the Pentagon’s top brass plan for a 20 per­cent cut in their op­er­at­ing budgets— not just with­in his own of­fice, but in the Joint Staff and Pentagon headquar­ters staff of each of the four armed ser­vices. Hagel on Wed­nes­day an­nounced his of­fice will see wide­spread re­or­gan­iz­a­tion span­ning not just staff but mis­sion. The Pentagon’s policy shop, for in­stance, will elim­in­ate some seni­or po­s­i­tions but pri­or­it­ize op­er­a­tions in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion, and space and cy­ber cap­ab­il­it­ies. The of­fice of Per­son­nel and Read­i­ness will “sharpen” its fo­cus on force man­age­ment and read­i­ness, mil­it­ary health care, com­pens­a­tion and re­tire­ment re­form, as the de­fense in­tel­li­gence of­fice plans how its mis­sion and fo­cus will evolve now that the era dom­in­ated by wars in Ir­aq and Afgh­anistan is com­ing to a close. “All these de­cisions will not only res­ult in a smal­ler and flat­ter OSD, but one that I be­lieve will be bet­ter pre­pared for the ser­i­ous and com­plex 21st cen­tury se­cur­ity chal­lenges that we face as a De­part­ment and as a na­tion,” Hagel said.

With no deal to avert se­quest­ra­tion yet, Hagel is can­did about the tea leaves for his de­part­ment’s budget woes — many of which, such as mil­it­ary re­tire­ment be­ne­fits and base clos­ures — are po­ten­tial polit­ic­al land­mines on Cap­it­ol Hill. “Dif­fi­cult but ne­ces­sary choices re­main ahead for the De­part­ment on com­pens­a­tion re­form, force struc­ture, ac­quis­i­tions and oth­er ma­jor parts of DoD,” he said. “These choices will be much more dif­fi­cult if Con­gress fails to halt se­quest­ra­tion and fully fund the Pres­id­ent’s budget re­quest.”

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