Friday, January 14, 2011

Joint Forces Command Works on Closure Plan

By Donna Miles and Army Sgt. Josh LeCappelain
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 14, 2011 - A week after President Barack Obama officially authorized Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to dissolve U.S. Joint Forces Command, the command's staff is coming up with the best way to do it without compromising critical capabilities.

"We hope that the implementation plan will be finished within the next 30 to 45 days and approved so we can begin execution," Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, who took the reins of Joint Forces Command in November, told reporters this week.

The command could close within nine to 10 months, Odierno said, but making all the associated changes is more likely to take 12 to 15 months. Eliminating the command and shifting its essential functions to other commands will save the Defense Department about $400 million a year, he estimated.

Although Obama gave the official green light Jan. 6 to close the Norfolk, Va.-based command, the staff has been working on its closure plan for several months, since Gates made the recommendation in August.

"What we've done is attempted to find the core capabilities that should be left behind in Joint Forces Command," Odierno said. These include joint training, concept development and doctrine development, as well as providing troops for contingency missions around the world, he said.

Twenty-four of the command's 77 core functions are expected to be eliminated, but Odierno didn't specify which ones.

While the staff hammers out details of the plan, it's focusing on four driving goals:

-- Improve the efficiency and effectiveness of all critical functions that remain;

-- Maintain a strong collaboration with NATO's Allied Command Transformation and multinational partners in the Hampton Roads, Va., area;

-- Sustain joint advocacy and progress made in promoting jointness; and

-- Provide support to the work force during the transition.

Odierno said he expects as many as half of the command's almost 4,000 jobs in the Hampton Roads area to be eliminated. The contractor force is expected to take the biggest hit.

Odierno said he hopes to identify which positions will be affected as quickly as possible. The final plan being worked will identify "what the organization looks like [and] what positions will remain," he told reporters. "And then we will have to work through the details of who fills that position and who doesn't, and who will have to look for work in other places."

In the meantime, Odierno praised the commitment of workers who continue to contribute "great expertise and capabilities" to the command despite all the unknowns.

"That's why we want to get the decision on the implementation done, so we can start informing people what is going to happen to them," he said.

As commander of U.S. Forces Iraq before he assumed his present duties, Odierno oversaw the drawdown of U.S. forces there to 50,000 and the transition from combat to stability operations on Sept. 1.

Although eliminating a command has some similarities, Odierno said, cutting jobs -- particularly in today's economy -- weighs heavily on him.

"Things are tough these days. And now here I am, responsible for potentially 1,900 people no longer being able to be employed, or whatever the number is here," he told reporters. "That is quite a burden."

For those whose jobs are eliminated, "we are going to do everything we can to provide them assistance and help for them to move forward," he said. "What we want to try to do is to ease that burden, and we'll do that to the best of our ability."

Odierno said he plans to set up a program to help affected Defense Department civilian employees find jobs in other government organizations.

Eliminating Joint Forces Command is part of Gates' broad departmentwide effort to improve efficiency and reduce overhead so more defense dollars go directly toward military capability. Odierno said he expects belt-tightening initiatives to extend well beyond Joint Forces Command. "There is a lot more coming," he predicted.

Interjecting a moment of levity into the discussion, he quipped, "I might be unemployed as well at the end of this."