Critics have long called for the Defense Department to slash staffs that have grown dramatically, especially since 9-11.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Marty Dempsey last week said they would cut their staffs and those of the military services by 20 percent, saving up to $2 billion by 2019.
More important than the savings is the symbolism of the gesture: Leading by example at a time when the entire military faces dire cuts to training, operations, combat power and weapons programs.
Now comes the hard part.
First, it’s not enough to reduce people. Getting rid of pointless work is also essential. Unnecessary work drags down productivity, creativity and clouds decision making.
Second, staff cuts must be made carefully to ensure DoD retains the best people, not just the longest serving, a challenge because federal personnel rules are heavily weighted toward seniority. As DoD shrinks, retaining top talent, especially dynamic future leaders and focusing them on the right tasks must be priorities.
Third, these cuts should be completed sooner than 2019 given the immediacy of the sequester’s budget pressures.
Hagel and Dempsey have taken an important step toward reforming America’s military establishment.
Their next goal: prune staffs worldwide, eliminate unnecessary organizations and streamline the rest.