WASHINGTON — Facing growing pressure to cut military spending, Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Monday ordered the closing of a major Pentagon headquarters, restrictions on use of contractors and reductions in the number of generals and admirals.
The belt-tightening moves are aimed at eliminating duplication and reducing overhead to free up funds for military operations at a time of growing fiscal constraints, Gates said at a Pentagon news conference.
"My greatest fear is that in economic tough times that people will see the defense budget as a place to solve the nation's deficit problems," he said.
Pentagon officials declined to supply estimates of the cost-savings, but they said that the savings were a minuscule part of the $712 billion that the Obama administration has requested for fiscal year 2011.
After a decade of rapidly increasing defense spending, the Pentagon is facing growing calls from outside commissions and even some members of Congress for cuts in its budget.
"These steps don't go that far to reach the kind of savings he is going to need in the next five years, but it's a start," said Todd Harrison, a defense budget expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington research organization.
But by trimming the Defense Department's civilian and military bureaucracies, Gates is hoping to convince Congress and outside critics that the department is eliminating waste on its own, thereby heading off future reductions in overall military spending.
The most immediate steps announced by Gates were a 10 percent reduction in spending on contractors who provide support services to the military and elimination of Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va.
The command, which works to improve cooperation among the military services, costs roughly $240 million a year and has about 2,800 military and civilian positions, along with 3,000 contractors. Its duties will be reassigned, mostly to the military's Joint Staff. The plan provoked an immediate outcry from the Virginia congressional delegation.
Gates also announced a freeze on personnel in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, other Pentagon agencies and the headquarters of the military's regional commands. He said the Defense Department should try to cut at least 50 general and admiral posts and 150 senior civilian positions over the next two years.
He also ordered the closing of a Pentagon office with responsibility for integrating information technology across the department and the Business Transformation Agency, a Pentagon office with 360 workers and a budget of $340 million a year whose mission is already being done by other Pentagon offices, Gates said.
In inflation-adjusted dollars, the administration defense budget request for fiscal 2011 is at the highest level since World War II. Gates has warned for the last year that the era of ever-increasing defense budgets that began after 2001 is coming to an end.
But he has also said that fighting ongoing wars and purchasing needed weapons systems will require annual growth of 2 to 3 percent in defense spending, more than many analysts believe is likely in coming years.
He previously directed the services and Pentagon agencies to find $100 billion in spending cuts and efficiencies over the next five years.