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Esper cut $5 billion from Pentagon’s budget – and he wants to cut $41 billion more

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper addresses the Reagan National Defense Forum, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, California, Dec. 7, 2019. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
December 12, 2019

The Department of Defense has cut some $5 billion in costs from offices throughout the Pentagon in the four months since Mark Esper took on the role of Defense Secretary – one step toward his goal of cutting $46 billion.

Esper revealed the spending cuts during a keynote speech at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, Calif., Defense News reported. Esper said the 27 offices that comprise the “fourth estate” of the Defense Department – parts of the Defense Department that are not military branches – underwent a review of their spending and management in August, shortly after he became Defense Secretary.

“Within the department we are implementing aggressive reforms to free up time, money and manpower to put back into our highest priorities,” Esper said. “In just four months of work we have saved over $5 billion. By decreasing overhead, divesting legacy activities and reducing lower-priority programs, we are able to invest more in the war-fighting requirements of the services.”

Those “fourth estate” agencies include the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Defense Information Systems Agency and the Missile Defense Agency, among others. According to a September 2018 report by the Government Accountability Office, the various “fourth estate” offices have an estimated annual budget of at least $106 billion.

In his remarks, Esper said savings could continue, but only with the help lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Esper said the cutting process will begin again in the 2021 budget.

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“We can’t do this without the backing of Congress,” he said. “When our budget comes to the Hill next year, I ask you to support our proposals and enact the legislative changes needed to get these reforms across the finish line. And to be clear, this is just the beginning.”

During his confirmation hearings, Defense News reported Esper had raised the goal of cutting up to $46 billion from the Department of Defense, largely through reviews of the management structure of those “Fourth Estate” agencies.

He has also reportedly expects the leaders of each military service, including those in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff and in the combatant commands to review their budgets and reprioritize their spending.

Beyond cuts from the “Fourth Estate” agencies, Esper said in August the reviews may also look at legacy programs that can instead be diverted to new projects that can advance the U.S. position to provide a check against Russia and China.

Esper’s remarks came ahead of a proposed $738 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2020, which would include the largest pay increase to troops in ten years, along with funding for a sixth military branch, the U.S. Space Force, proposed by President Donald Trump.