Secretary Gates this week outlined the process the Department of Defense (DoD) will use to guide decisions on future defense budgets in response to President Obama’s call for additional cuts to the defense budget.

When President Obama announced his deficit reduction plan last month, he proposed a $400 billion reduction in security budgets over the next 10 years.  He also directed DoD “to conduct a fundamental review of America’s missions, capabilities, and our role in a changing world” to inform decision on how to implement this cut.  At that time, Secretary Gates said the review would be “driven by analysis” and the management of risks related to threats and security challenges. 

Reiterating what he said last month, Gates said that the review would focus on strategy and risks and would not be “simply a math and accounting exercise.”  He again rejected the use of across-the-board cuts to achieve budget goals.  “That kind of approach preserves overhead and maintains force structure on paper,” but it “results in a hollowing-out of the force.”

The Secretary emphasized that the review will be guided by security policy documents:  The National Security Strategy, the National Defense Strategy, the National Military Strategy, the Chairman’s Risk Assessment, and the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).  This will focus the process in the correct order—strategic policy choices first and then budget-related changes.

Gates said that program options will be developed in four areas.  The first category is the search for additional efficiencies.  Gates pointed to successful efforts in this area over the past year, but said DoD must be more aggressive in identifying and reducing “bureaucratic excess and overhead”.

Secondly, he said the department would examine established policies, programs, and processes that are the drivers of increased operating costs.  This would include health care, military personnel compensation, retirement benefits, and how DoD maintains infrastructure and buys goods and services.

The third area would be to eliminate “marginal missions and marginal capabilities.  DoD would especially look at programs that are specialized and costly and are not important to the core mission.

The final area will be to identify possible alternative modifications to the QDR strategy that may produce options for force structure cuts or capabilities.  Gates said this area would be the most difficult strategically and would be informed by the other areas of the review.

Gates said the review will be led by director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE), the Under Secretary of Defense (Policy) and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).