Does closing JFCOM really save money?

Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants to close Joint Forces Command to help change "the culture of endless money" at the Pentagon.

But some analysts and local politicians doubt he'll hit that target. The announcement of JFCOM's closure caused shock and awe throughout Hampton Roads, and it certainly puts thousands of jobs at risk.

But from a larger standpoint, it may result in more reshuffling and less real cost-cutting.

Hampton Roads residents can look at the 2005 round of base closings as a case in point, said Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, D- Newport News.

The military decided to shutter Fort Monroe in Hampton, home to the Army's Training and Doctrine Command. But TRADOC is moving to Fort Eustis in Newport News, which is seeing a building boom.

"You eliminate the base, but you move the function elsewhere," he said. "You have moving expenses, construction expenses, and the question is whether the infrastructure you reduce will be enough to offset the cost of rearranging the deck chairs."

A similar view comes from Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration with responsibilities for manpower, reserve affairs, installations and logistics.

He dismissed the notion that Gates is proposing a major shift in spending. There will be little savings if JFCOM's functions are transferred, and Gates left open that possibility.

"We've seen it before — fraud, waste and abuse and we're going to be more efficient," Korb said.

JFCOM still has an important role to play in getting different branches of the military to fight together, said Daniel Goure, a vice president at the Lexington Institute.

"The value is, they have a unique approach to jointly organizing, training, supporting and deploying troops," he said.

Gates decided to close JFCOM because the military has "largely embraced" working together as matter of routine, what the military calls jointness.

Goure said that embrace only goes so far.

"It is a mantra, everyone subscribes to it," he said. "But no one does all those functions except JFCOM."

What would be a sign of serious belt-tightening? Rather than look at what the Pentagon wants to cut, look at its shopping list, advises Korb.

A plan to downsize the number of military personnel would be a start, especially with an eye toward the anticipated drawdown in Afghanistan. Another would be taking a hard look at big-ticket programs like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Goure gives credit to Gates for wanting to cut spending, and said Gates might be the most influential Pentagon chief since Robert McNamara during the Kennedy-Johnson years. That said, Monday's announcement fell short.

"You don't save money unless you shut the door and fire everybody, which makes no sense and is never going to happen," he said.

Meanwhile, Virginia politicians are still fuming about being blindsided. Scott characterized the move as haphazard.

"We just got the notice, 'oh, by the way, we're going to whack a command in your region,'" he said. "I'm not sure anyone has shown us the savings."

Virginia leaders want to challenge the closing as a violation of the BRAC base-closing law. Scott also wondered why there was no mention of JFCOM's closing in the Quadrennial Defense Review released earlier this year.

The QDR is a long-range look at military needs that can serve as a spending guide.

Reminded that the QDR contained only a single sentence about another controversial project — moving an aircraft carrier from Hampton Roads to Mayport, Fla. — Scott joked.

"But they didn't even have the common decency to put in a sentence," he said. "They haven't moved a carrier yet, have they?"

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