Buried in Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s long and depressing article on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is an interesting statistic. The F-35 program office employs 2,000 people.
For some perspective, here’s a list of offices, staffs, agencies, and commands and their estimated staff size (not including contractors):
- Pacom 3,200
- Joint Staff 2,800
- OSD 2,700
- Centcom 2,000
- Defense Logistics Agency 27,000
I know that the Joint Strike Fighter is an inordinately complex acquisition program that, after years of neglect and mismanagement, requires diligent oversight, but it’s still just a single acquisition program. And yet it employs the same number of people as Centcom, which hasn’t exactly been starved of work in the last decade.
As the Department’s budget grew after 9/11, so too did the overhead. Overhead consumes about 40% of the budget. As of FY10, that was $240 billion, equivalent to the entire Israeli economy. We’ve been trying to reduce it for years.
In 1997, Secretary of Defense William Cohen created a task force called the Defense Reform Initiative and tasked it “to find ways to improve the organization and procedures in the Department” by recommending “organizational reforms, reductions in management overhead and streamlined business practices.” The task force recommended: 1) OSD and associated activities personnel will be reduced 33% from FY 1996 levels; 2) the Joint Staff and associated activities personnel will be reduced 29% from FY 1996; and 3) Defense Agencies personnel will be reduced 21% over the next five years.
In 2010, Secretary Gates tasked the Defense Business Board with repeating the exercise. Again, a task force recommended reducing overhead by streamlining processes and eliminating positions. Some, like dissolving Joint Forces Command, were implemented (though most of these positions simply transferred to the Joint Staff). Gates also identified 102 general officer / flag officer (GOFO) billets to be eliminated, 65 of which were supposed to be eliminated no later than this month. To date, only 31 have been eliminated, mostly 1-stars.
And these are just the two most recent iterations of the game. Studies recommending efficiencies and reducing staff size go back to 1956. They all say the same thing.
The sequester is stupid. There’s no defense for reducing a department’s budget by slicing every line item by an equal amount. Not when there’s so much fat available. But it’s laughable when people act like the budget can’t be cut by another penny. To make that claim is to either betray an ignorance of how the Department actually spends money or put political ideology before analysis.
Lt Gen Christopher Bogdan, the F-35 program officer, recently announced his intention to streamline his office by trimming staff. Putting aside for a moment the almost comical goal of keeping JSF costs under control by trimming some staff, I’ve got one thing to say.
Good luck, sir!