Military budget cuts to drive strategic changes, vice admiral says

Budget cuts will play an important role in nearly every facet of America’s defense over the next several years, driving a number of changes. The Pentagon is finalizing its strategy to remain combat ready in this time of fiscal austerity, according to Navy Vice Adm. William Gortney, director of the Joint Staff, who’s been involved in many of the discussions in Washington.

Gortney, who was the kickoff speaker at AFCEA West 2012 in San Diego, opened his remarks by noting that “the national debt is a major strategic threat.” The Defense Department is finishing up a strategy that will keep the nation safe and maintain military strength despite $259 billion in cuts over the next five years.

In a wide-ranging question and answer session, Gortney stressed that public-private partnerships will play a major role in maintaining national defense. That includes many factors such as improving the way the military procures technology from private contractors. He also noted that the DOD needs to find ways to help private companies hold onto experienced personnel during this time of belt tightening.

“We need to remember that budgets are sine waves, they will go up, though we don’t know when. We need to protect the industrial base so its’ ready when the budgets move up. Part of that is to help industry maintain its intellectual base,” Gortney said.

Military agencies must also determine when they can cut costs by using outside contractors and when they should handle programs in-house with government employees. Contractors can be cost effective for short duration projects. But for long-term programs, it’s often cheaper to hire government employees.

“We don’t have the right balance for joint staff. We have some contractors who have gotten five or six contracts over 20 years, doing the same job for all that time. That’s not saving us any money,” Gortney said.

In response to another line of questions, he said changes in IT are altering the way messages are transmitted. It's often effective for commanders to use technology such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter to provide background and inform individual personnel. He also expressed frustration at the military’s difficulties in staying abreast of advances in IT.

“It’s frustrating to most of us that we don’t treat IT as a strategic weapon. We’ve got to figure this out in the future,” Gortney said. “Our networks are under attack from around the globe, so we’ve got to be sure we protect them. These networks are costing us a fortune. We need to fix that.”

About the Author

Terry Costlow is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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