Washington (CNSNews.com) – Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he wants to reduce the role support-service contractor employees by a third and replace them with more than 30,000 new government employees.
Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday, Gates said that the Obama administration’s goal was to reduce the number of private Defense contractors to pre-Bush administration--and thus, pre-war--levels.
The Pentagon, he said, plans to reduce “the number of support service contractors from our current 39 percent of the workforce to the pre-2001 level of 26 percent and replacing them with full-time government employees.
“Our goal is to hire as many as 13,800 new civil servants in FY10 (fiscal year 2010) to replace contractors and up to 33,600 new civil servants in place of contractors over the next five years,” Gates told the committee.
Gates also said that the Defense Department planned to convert an additional 10,000 contractors working in acquisitions into government workers and hire an additional 10,000 government acquisition professionals by 2015 – beginning with 4,080 acquisitions positions in FY’10.
“Acquisitions” is the process of buying weapons, hardware or equipment the military needs.
Gates explained to the committee that the dilemma facing the Defense Department was how many "unnecessary" weapons the Pentagon should buy in the interest of job creation in the private sector -- telling senators that every dollar of unnecessary purchases was a dollar that couldn’t be used to buy the weapons needed to fight terrorists.
“The key question for us is, ‘In order to keep a competitive base: how much stuff do we buy that we know we don’t need?’” Gates said. “Because everything that I buy that I don’t need takes a dollar away from a place where I do need it.”
Gates described the annual defense budget as a “reform budget” that seeks to re-focus the U.S. military away from conflicts of the past and toward the conflicts of the future, eliminating weapons the country doesn’t need or ones that are too costly.
“The responsibility of this department first and foremost is to fight and win wars – not just constantly prepare for them,” Gates said in his opening statement. “In that respect, the conflicts we are in have revealed numerous problems that I am working to improve; this budget makes real headway in that respect.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) told CNSNews.com that the contracting process had gotten out of hand and needed to be reformed, saying that foreign nationals were now doing jobs previously done by U.S. troops.
“If we don’t have (federal) acquisition personnel, then we don’t have anybody to keep the contractors accountable. We’ve been hiring contractors to watch the contractors, hiring contractors to decide what we want from contractors.
“We have commanders who don’t really think it’s important how much stuff costs when it comes to contractors, particularly now that we’re going toward supporting our fighting men and women with contractors,” she said. “In the old days, we used to have soldiers peel potatoes, now we have foreign nationals peel potatoes for $0.50 an hour.”
Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) praised Gates for addressing the contracting situation saluting the proposed swaps between private and public sector jobs.
“This (contracting) has been an issue that has been put off and I highly salute you for addressing it,” Bayh said.
Bayh congratulated Gates on his proposed reforms, saying that he felt the Pentagon was ending “business as usual” and being more honest than ever before.
“Mr. Secretary, I would like to congratulate you on submitting this reform budget. Frankly it’s about time we ended business as usual in this area. It seems to me that this submission is a lot more honest than some we have seen in the past. ”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), meanwhile, told the defense secretary he was concerned that the administration would use defense cuts to pay for other programs, saying that a budget that borrows too much risks national security and that cutting defense was not an answer to the nation’s fiscal challenges.
“Reducing defense (spending) is not the answer to our budget problems,” Graham said. “Our budget needs to understand that we are the arsenal of democracy, like it or not.”
Gates told the committee that, “at the end of the day,” his proposed budget “is less about numbers than it is about how the military thinks about the nature of warfare and prepares for the future; about how we take care of our people and institutionalize support for the war-fighter for the long term; about the role of the services and how we can buy weapons as jointly as we fight; about reforming our requirements and acquisition processes.”
The president’s proposed Fiscal Year 2010 defense budget, announced earlier this week, increases defense spending by 4 percent, for a total expenditure of $534 billion.