In 1997, Robins Air Force Base issued $1.8 billion in contracts. In the 12 years since, the amount of money that Robins has handed out in contracts has more than tripled to $5.8 billion in fiscal year 2009.
But it appears Robins’ rising payouts could soon turn downward. As the Department of Defense looks to slash more than $100 billion from its budget in the next five years, it’s a near certainty that some of those dollars will come from Robins.
“The challenge that the military is facing is that the country is in a deep economic problem,” said retired Maj. Gen. Rick Goddard, the former commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center. “The military is going to have to expect to be a part of the solution.”
For certain, if the Pentagon has its way, some of the cuts will come from programmatic cuts, like ending production of the C-17. But there is another target of the new, thrifty military: Contracts that run their day-to-day operations.
Last week, Ash Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisitions, announced a military-wide initiative to trim Pentagon contracts.
He issued a memo June 28 to acquisition professionals, in undiplomatic terms demanding their help in “restoring affordability to defense.”
“The savings we are seeking will not be found overnight,” Carter said. “It has taken years for excessive costs and unproductive overhead to creep into our business processes, and it will take years to work them out.”
Carter released several expectations of the military’s contracting community, ordering his subordinates to seek to eliminate overhead costs, increase competition for contracts and encourage small businesses to participate in the contracting process.
“Make every effort to provide small business participation,” Carter wrote in a point-by-point list of expectations. “If at least two small businesses are deemed capable of performing on such a contract, consider setting aside that work for competition among them.”
Carter promised to provide more details on how to trim costs in the coming weeks.
The subject of defense spending cuts has cycled through the military’s ranks since Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, speaking at the Dwight Eisenhower Presidential Library in Kansas in May, fired his own shots at the military-industrial complex. Gates excoriated the Department of Defense for wild spending, much of which happened under his watch, he acknowledged.
Gates noted that operations and maintenance costs — encompassing everything “from flight training to mowing the grass” — has doubled in the last decade, “not counting expenses directly relating to the wars.”
“At the same time the Department’s spending on contract services, excluding the Iraq and Afghan theaters, has grown by some $23 billion,” Gates added.
So far, none of the military’s top contractors have complained about the forthcoming cuts.
Boeing, which received $1.4 billion from Robins in 2009, released a news release June 28 expressing support for the effort to trim costs. When asked by the Telegraph to discuss how the cuts would effect Robins, a Boeing official said it was “too early” to know.
Whatever the specifics, the timing of the cuts come as Robins may need more resources to complete its work. “The issue with an operation as large as Warner Robins is the bread and butter is turning airplanes,” Goddard said. As the aircraft are becoming older, the maintenance work on them “becomes more and more costly,” he said.
Last month, Gen. Donald Hoffman, commander of the Air Force Materiel Command, warned that “we are at a leveling point right now in our funding” during a visit to Robins. Hoffman’s assessment may have been optimistic.
To contact writer Thomas L. Day, call 744-4489.