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Published: Wednesday, 8/11/2010

Pentagon savings

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave Americans a look this week at proposed Pentagon spending cuts that would represent the first part of a post-Iraq and post-Afghanistan peace dividend for the country.

Until now, the Defense Department and other national security agencies have been exempt from efforts by President Obama to try to reduce the budget deficit, projected at $1.2 trillion for the next fiscal year, and the national debt, at $13 trillion.

Mr. Gates is acting to pre-empt an assault on the military budget, which has grown 7 percent a year since 9/11,by seeking cuts himself. He said his new approach of “savings and restraint” would replace the current Pentagon culture of “endless money.”

He plans to abolish the Joint Forces Command, based in Norfolk, Va., which was established in 1999 to facilitate cooperation among the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. It employs 2,800 military personnel and civilians and uses 3,000 contractors. Getting rid of it would save at least $240 million.

He plans to thin the ranks of generals, admirals, and senior defense civilian employees over two years. The country has 1,000 generals and admirals, up by 100 since 9/11.

The Gates plan would cut 50 generals and admirals and 150 civilians, including some from his office. The number of outside contractors would drop by 10 percent.

Some members of Congress, other politicians, and business interests oppose these cuts. Military contractors, who contribute to political campaigns, will say it hurts U.S. readiness. Virginia representatives will cite the loss of jobs in Norfolk.

Americans should bear in mind, however, that the cost of a major operation such as the Joint Forces Command is borne by the nation's taxpayers. It represents, in effect, a gift from the rest of the country to Virginia.

In a quest for government savings in hard financial times, Mr. Gates wants to apply a need test to all military expenditures. He deserves praise for showing Americans in concrete terms the peace dividend that can follow the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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