White House to lower DoD budget request for 2012

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday that the Pentagon will reduce costs by raising health care premiums of working-age military retirees.

By Jared Serbu
Federal News Radio

Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday said the armed services had met his call to find a collective $100 billion in efficiency savings; reprioritizations that he said he hoped would help end “a culture of endless money where cost is rarely a consideration.”

The trimming will impact a broad range of the department’s activities – from personnel levels to health care premiums to contracting to information technology. Gates told a Pentagon news conference that he wants to avoid repeating what he viewed as mistakes of the past: deep, unwise cuts, while at the same time doing everything he can to make sure defense dollars are being spent wisely.

Gates said the $100 billion in five-year savings identified by the individual services would be retained in their budgets, and that each would be able to reinvest the funds into future needs for warfighters. He said the President would propose a Defense budget of $553 billion for fiscal year 2012, $13 billion less than the department had expected. And over five years, DoD’s budget will shrink by $78 billion, of which $54 billion will come from additional savings from DoD components outside the services.

Gates said he intended to begin tackling the explosive growth in the military’s health care costs, in part by seeking to increase premiums for some TRICARE beneficiaries. He said the Defense Department would save $7 billion over the next five years through a combination of better management and premium increases for working-age military retirees.

He said that many in that group work full time and have access to private employer-sponsored insurance, but choose TRICARE because of its vastly lower cost. TRICARE premiums have not risen for 15 years.

Among the $100 billion in cuts identified by individual services:

  • Army: The service will cancel the SLAMRAAM surface to air missile system. It also plans to cut 1,000 civilian positions in what it’s determined are unneeded task forces, and eliminate a pair of installation management commands. The ongoing consolidation of email and data centers is expected to save $500 million. And the Army thinks it will save $1.4 billion by canceling the construction of new facilities.
  • Navy and Marines: DoD is canceling the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle and putting the Marines’ version of the Joint Strike Fighter on what Gates called a two-year probation. Also, 6,000 ashore personnel in the Navy will be moved to operational sea duty. One carrier strike group staff will be eliminated, as will the staffs of submarine, patrol aircraft and destroyer squadrons. Gates is also proposing the closure of the Second Fleet in Norfolk, Va. He said the move would affect approximately 160 military positions, but no ships would leave Norfolk.
  • Air Force: Will consolidate four air operations centers and the staffs of three numbered air forces. They also plan to save $500 million by improving fuel economy and reduce the cost of communications infrastructure by 25 percent.

Gates also said the Pentagon would reduce the number of soldiers in the Army by 27,000 and trim the Marines by 20,000, saving as much as $6 billion.

Parts of the plan are likely to run into opposition from Congress, where lawmakers have fought past proposals to increase health care premiums and cut weapons programs that produce jobs in their states.

“I’m not happy,” said Rep. Buck McKeon, the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

“This is a dramatic shift for a nation at war and a dangerous signal from the commander-in-chief,” McKeon, R-Calif., added.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2011 by FederalNewsRadio.com. All Rights Reserved.) The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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