A few key takeaways from Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s latest "efficiency" initiative:
- The Marine Corps’s Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle is being canceled. This was the right decision. The savings are not that significant, given that some of the monies that would have been spent buying new EFVs will be diverted to refitting and upgrading existing landing vehicles. The other piece of bad news for taxpayers: the Defense Department has spent more than $3 billion on a program that has delivered only prototypes.
- The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), especially the Marine Corps’s Short Take Off/Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant, barely escaped a similar fate. Gates put the STOVL JSF program on a two-year probation to resolve a number of challenges that have cropped up over the course of the development cycle, especially the increases in size and weight that have pushed costs well above initial estimates. This has all the appearances of delaying the inevitable. It is highly unlikely that the many problems will be fixed over the next two years. The only certainty is that the delay will pile additional costs into an already bloated program. Bottom line for the taxpayers: modest overall savings, offset by a delay that will increase per-unit costs over the long term; or, worse yet, a multi-billion dollar program that delivers nothing of value at all.
- Cuts and freezes in civilian hiring and pay. Such reforms make sense, but could go much farther. Personnel expenses -- salary, but especially health care and other benefits -- are the fastest rising portion of the Pentagon’s budget. Although Gates announced some programmatic reforms that might help slow the rate of growth, truly getting control of those costs will ultimately entail reducing head count.