There’s a joke about lawyers (one of many) that goes, “What do you call 10,000 lawyers chained together at the bottom of the sea?” The answer, for those who think we have too many lawyers (well over 1.2 million, according to the American Bar Association), is “a good start.” Well, what do you call a 20 percent cut in the staffs of the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (closer to 9,000 people in a DOD military and civil service workforce of 2.2 million)? A symbolic start, at best.
The headquarters staff cuts, announced by Secretary Hagel last week are, of course, welcome, even though they will apparently take place over a five-year period, much of it after Secretary Hagel is gone. But they do not begin to address the problem of the Pentagon’s “back office,” the most serious managerial challenge the secretary faces.
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This op-ed first appeared in Foreign Policy on July 27, 2013.