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House chairman aims to cut 25 percent in spending from dozens of Defense agencies

Chairman of the House Committee on Armed Service Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, attends a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, April 12, 2018.

CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES

By CLAUDIA GRISALES | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 17, 2018

WASHINGTON – Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, will spearhead an aggressive new effort to cut 25 percent in spending from dozens of Defense Department agencies that could result in significant job losses.

Thornberry, who made the announcement Tuesday during media roundtable, said his legislation, called the Comprehensive Pentagon Bureaucracy Reform and Reduction Act, will force spending cuts on the so-called “4th Estate,” which is comprised of 28 Defense Department agencies that include commissaries, combat support agencies such as the Defense Logistics Agency and field activities such as military media outlets, including Stars and Stripes.

The 2-year process to install the cuts could amount to more than $25 billion, but Thornberry could not give estimates on how many civilian or contractor jobs would be eliminated or how many military personnel would be displaced as a result of the reductions.

The 4th Estate “has been largely left untouched by oversight and reform,” Thornberry said. “In the interests of not only saving money but of streamlining decision-making, starting to thin down this 4th Estate and then bring other parts of it into the 21st century will be a major step forward.”

The effort comes weeks before lawmakers begin crafting the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act and could become part of that legislation. Thornberry, who also introduced his bill Tuesday, will host a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the proposal Wednesday morning.

The 4th Estate departments represent about 200,000 civilian personnel and nearly 600,000 contractors, Thornberry said.

However, the 25 percent cut proposed by the legislation would not impact all the “4th Estate” agencies and some would be excluded, Thornberry said. Agencies that provide intelligence support and the combat support agencies, which includes the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Defense Health Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency would not be impacted by the new cuts.

His legislation will also eliminate seven “4th Estate” agencies: the Defense Technical Information Center, the Defense Test Resource Management Center, Office of Economic Adjustment, the Defense Technology Security Administration, the Defense Human Resource Activities, the Defense Information Systems Agency and the department’s Washington Headquarters Service Agency.

These agencies would be eliminated by 2020 or 2021, Thornberry said.
“If I’m not making somebody nervous, I’m not doing anything,” Thornberry said of potential pushback to the cuts. “We’ve got to have a culture that is willing to be disruptive if we are going to adequately defend the nation.”

Defense Department leaders haven’t endorsed the plan, but have been receptive, Thornberry said.

“For the last three years, the reforms that we have enacted have basically been in the face of opposition of the [Defense Department]. That is not true this year,” he said. “I do think we are trying to swim the same direction.”

Several past House Armed Services Committee reform efforts have been met with opposition from the Pentagon in recent years, including the rejection of a House plan to create a Space Corps last year and a failed 2016 effort to update the 1986 Goldwater Nichols Act, which ushered new savings for the department.

The “4th Estate” represents about 20 percent of the Defense Department’s budget and about 25 percent of the department’s workers, Thornberry said.

The legislation will also restructure management for the agencies and install the department’s Chief Management Officer, or CMO, a newly created position, in charge of the 4th Estate. The CMO will also make the calls on the cuts with a report due on the actual proposal for how to proceed on the reductions due by early next year, Thornberry said.

John Gibson, the former deputy chief managing officer, became CMO in February with an aim to cut spending.

The 4th Estate is “not the Army, Air Force, Navy or Marines. It’s this other stuff that is out there,” Thornberry said. He expects the CMO “to find 25 percent savings over the next few years. If he doesn’t find it, we are going to do it for him.”

With any military positions eliminated, those workers would be moved into a new job, Thornberry said.

The effort comes as lawmakers are under increasing scrutiny over aggressive spending in the last year. Republicans, in particular, have faced increasing pressure to find cost savings after passing a $1.3 trillion budget that will see the U.S. deficit soar.


The legislation will require a proposal on the cuts to be introduced about March 2020 and for the cuts to be enacted by the start of 2021.

grisales.claudia@stripes.com
Twitter: @cgrisales

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