By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
It is imperative for the Defense Department to eliminate "wasteful, excessive, and unneeded spending," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday.
He and Adm. Mike Mullen, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, spoke from The Pentagon, outlining budget cuts and "efficiencies" that will affect every branch of the U.S. military.
More than $6 billion will be saved as the active-duty Army and Marine Corps forces are reduced in 2015, Gates said. The Army's end strength would decrease by 27,000 and the Marines would lose 15,000 to 20,000.
"These projected reductions are based on an assumption that America's ground combat commitment in Afghanistan would be significantly reduced by the end of 2014 in accordance with the president's strategy," Gates said.
Other Army cuts - which total $29 billion in five years - include cutting unneeded task forces and consolidating six installation management commands to four. That is set to cut more than 1,000 civilian and military positions, Gates said.
The Army will save $1.4 billion by sustaining existing facilities instead of beginning new construction and will save $500 million by consolidating e-mail infrastructure and data centers, he added.
A Fort Hood spokesman referred questions about the cuts' effects on Fort Hood to the Army.
The Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy secretaries all released statements Thursday supporting Gates' announcement. By terminating or reducing unnecessary weapons systems, restructuring headquarters, leveraging existing infrastructure and consolidating information technology, the Army can "re-prioritize resources to fulfill urgent needs," said Army Secretary John McHugh.
Gates also said Thursday that the Defense Department is too reliant on contractors to perform duties that could be done by government employees or to man jobs that could be cut. The Defense Department will make significant reductions in contractor staff support, he added.
"Overall, we will cut the size of the staff support contractor cadre by 10 percent per year for three years and realize nearly $6 billion in total savings," he said.
The proposed cuts will save the Defense Department $100 billion and $54 billion by freezes in civilian positions and salaries, and Gates outlined how those savings would be invested.
About $28 billion will be used by the four branches in the next five years to deal with higher-than-expected operating costs - in health care, pay and housing allowances, sustainment of weapons systems, depot maintenance, base support and flight hours and other training - Gates said.
"Frankly, using the savings in this way was not my original intent or preference, but we have little choice but to deal with these so-called "must pay" bills," Gates said. "And better to confront them honestly now than through raiding investment accounts later."
More than $70 billion will be invested in other areas, and the Army's intends to use its portion to provide soldiers with improved suicide prevention and substance-abuse counseling, modernize tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and Strykers and speed up the fielding of the Army's new tactical communications network, Gates said.
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