Staff size and DoD overhead

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.

Two. Thousand.

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!

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6 Responses to Staff size and DoD overhead

  1. LongTabSigO says:

    As with any of these ideas, what will happen is that important stuff will be cut in a quest to get “get smaller”.

    I wish these boards and other groups would just say “these are the important things you must do” and focus on making sure they are fully manned and funded. Then we can worry about what is an “overage”.

    And, while we are at it, can we get rid of all these compliance offices that agencies have to form every time some social justice group gets their way and demands “accountability”?

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  4. Ted says:

    This contract was awarded in 2001 and we still only have a plane that is less capable (and functional) than those it is meant to replace (F-16, 18, etc.). The rub of this sequestration is that scrapping that one program would more or less pay for the cuts which we are applying across the board willy-nilly.

    That isn’t to deny that the real money problem is that we are spending money on quixotic wars and unnecessary troop concentrations (e.g. Korea, Bosnia, Germany), but to say that we might be able to support this arbitrary cut by cutting something that only the USAF thinks might be “400%” more effective.

    The sequester is stupid, but necessary in the here-and-now only because our government is stupid. The Alexander (“exaggerated and improbable suggestions…That [the militia] of New Hampshire is to be marched to Georgia” – Federalist 29) Hamiltons of our government have won out and we pour treasure down the military drain because, well, why not? We’ll just print more. No one considers the very real consequences outside of the realm of our imaginary currency.

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  6. Stoopid American says:

    Can anyone explain to me how the JSF could possibly be worth the cost? Are previous aircraft just as capable? Is this as much of a boondoggle as it appears from the outside?

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