San Diego A Pentagon plan to reduce spending on civilian contractors could free up more than $10 billion in the next four years, says Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who wants the savings to be spent on new ships, fighters and other weapons systems rather than on reducing the federal budget deficit.
The internal Pentagon savings estimate, disclosed by Gates in an interview this week, represents a small slice of the overall defense budget, but it is a big part of his effort to find savings and to stave off calls in Congress for deep cuts in military spending to reduce the federal deficit.
By going after civilian contractors, Gates is targeting one of the symbols of the Pentagon’s massive expansion since 2001 — the private companies that in many cases have lucrative, open-ended contracts to provide the military everything from basic requirements such as food, fuel and transportation to more sensitive needs, such as intelligence analysis and security guards.
“In three years, there will be 70 percent as much money (for support contracts) as there is today,” Gates said, adding that his goal was to reduce the number of contractor personnel from the current 39 percent of the Pentagon’s civilian workforce to 26 percent, where it was in 2000. “If I cut the dollars by a third, it’ll actually get us pretty close.”
But much about Gates’ effort remains unclear, including which specific contracts and companies would be targeted and whether the effort will be blocked by members of Congress defending companies in their home districts, even as pressure for reducing the deficit builds.
The plan, announced by Gates last week, mandates a 10 percent annual reduction over the next three years in contract spending. He is leaving it up to the military services and the Pentagon bureaucracy to choose which contracts will be terminated or reduced to reach the overall goal.
In addition to the $10 billion from contracting cutbacks, Gates said he would find another $10 billion by eliminating overhead and duplication. He also is counting on the military services and other Pentagon components to come up with an additional $80 billion, for a total of $100 billion in savings over the next five years.