Critics have long called for the Pentagon to slash headquarters staffs that have grown dramatically, especially since 9/11.
DoD is finally heeding the call. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last week ordered a 20 percent cut over five years in the budgets of his own office, the Joint Staff, and the headquarters elements of the four military services.
The Office of the Secretary of Defense has about 2,000 staffers, while the Joint Staff has more than 2,600. The cuts, which will affect not only DoD civilians and military personnel but also contractors, will trim up to $2 billion from the budget.
But more important than the savings is the symbolism: It’s leading by example when the entire military faces dire cuts to training, operations, combat power and weapons programs.
Now comes the hard part. The staff cuts must be made carefully to ensure DoD keeps the best people, not just the longest serving. Also essential is ditching pointless work, which drags down both productivity and creativity.
Hagel has taken an important step toward reforming the military establishment. And the former Army infantryman deserves credit for shooting straight about the magnitude of the budget cuts to come.
“It’s going to happen. I’m being as brutally honest with you as I can be,” he said at a stop on his three-day trip to four military installations last week. “That’s an obligation that all leaders have, to be straightforward.”
Eliminating unnecessary headquarters assets and streamlining what’s left won’t be easy. But it must be carried out and serve as a template for pruning staffs worldwide.