Rumors are flying that as part of its effort to reduce excess overhead and meet sequester budget cutting targets, the Department of Defense is considering eliminating one or more Combatant Command (COCOM). There are currently nine COCOMs, six are focused on specific regions of the world and three – Strategic Command, Transportation Command and Special Operations Command – are functional. Press reports suggest that the Pentagon might seek to merge Northern and Southern Command into a single Americas Command and disestablish the only recently-created African Command and divide its responsibilities between the European and Central Commands.
Sounds good. The Department of Defense has been inundated by a storm of criticism about its personnel policies, specifically the out-of-control growth that took place over the past decade in the size of staffs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the military services, the COCOMs, the Joint Staff and defense agencies. All told, in FY2012, these entities accounted for some 250,000 people and over $100 billion in defense spending. There must be a lot of bloat that can be cut out of defense overhead and headquarters.
Unfortunately, recent experience suggests that these initiatives often produce less in manpower reductions and hence budget savings than originally promised. Just two years ago, DoD closed down Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), which had been headquartered in Norfolk, Virginia. This decision was supposed to save nearly $2 billion by FY2016. However, most of these savings were predicated on the assumption that the 6,000 or so people who worked at JFCOM would actually lose their jobs. That assumption turned out not to have been the case. Many component organizations that had been included in JFCOM’s head count – for example, Fleet Forces Command, Air Combat Command, Marine Forces Command, Army Forces Command, the Joint Warfare Analysis Center and the Personnel Recovery Agency – were transferred to other commands or back to their service of origin. Many of JFCOM’s responsibilities simply shifted to the Joint Staff along with some 3,000 positions. In essence, the biggest savings to result from shuttering JFCOM may have come from turning off the lights, cutting of the water and halting the lawn service.
Merging Northern and Southern Commands and disestablishing African Command (AFRICOM) sounds nice in theory but is unlikely to save much money. In comparison to Central Command and Pacific Command, these are not very large organizations; AFRICOM is operating out of borrowed facilities in Stuttgart, Germany. Most of their component commands will continue to operate only for new bosses. Unless activities are stopped, offices closed and people walked out the gate, you don’t get much for all the effort.
There are much bigger opportunities to reduce costs that apparently are being ignored by Secretary Hagel and his staff. For example, according to the Defense Business Board, there are more than 300,000 uniformed personnel at an average cost of $160,000 per year doing jobs that could be performed by civilians for 2/3 the cost. Eliminating just ten percent of these positions would result in savings equal to sequestration. Equally large savings could be had by reforming the regulatory burden that weighs on the defense acquisition system. Instead, our leaders are expending their scarce political capital to save a billion here and a billion there by tinkering with the Unified Command Plan.
Find Archived Articles: