The Pentagon Budget Cutter Just Got a Big Promotion

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The same day President Obama signed legislation that is likely to dictate future budget cuts at the Pentagon of an unknown, but potentially significant size, the White House nominated the guy who is likely to carry out some of that cutting. The White House announced that Obama intends to nominate Ashton Carter to be the new deputy defense secretary, or the No. 2 official in the five-sided wind tunnel.

Carter would take over for William Lynn, who announced last month he was leaving. The Senate is expected to confirm Carter with no problem.

The important thing to know about Carter is that he is a cutter and he knows where the fat is hiding. He’s been the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology & logistics since April 2009. (Before that, he was a muckety-muck at Harvard).  That means buying stuff. More than half of the Pentagon’s $700 billion budget is spent on buying stuff, not on soldiers’ salaries or health care.

Carter has outlined clearly in the past how he would like to shave the billions:

  • He wants government contracting officials to reconsider contracts and try to figure out how much supplies “should” cost, rather than basing cost estimates on historical data.
  • Particularly thrifty contractors who can prove they save money will get the contracts, though a “preferred” supplier program.
  • Everybody knows about sole-source contracts and limited competition on contracts. Look for the sweetheart deals to decrease.
  • Services, rather than bullets and tanks and things, makes up about $200 billion in Pentagon spending every year. Carter thinks there is a ton of fat here. Pay attention, service providers. One particular focus will be eliminating contracts for reports. The building is full of studies and reports that cost a lot and don’t do much for anybody.

These are platitudes, to be sure. But with an estimated $1 trillion in cuts looming, real knives are likely to come out. And Carter will wield those knives.