$ETTLE UP: Air Force>> Will Budget Cuts Make it Leaner & Meaner?

On May 14, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James announced that she would double down on Secretary of Defense Hagel’s instruction to trim headquarters staff by 20 percent over five years, promising that the Air Force would do it all in one year.

Of all the armed services, the Air Force seems the least concerned about personnel cuts, willing to shed people to pay for the expensive high-tech fighters and bombers it wants to buy. Many defense reformers think that cuts like these are long overdue, arguing that under the growing defense budgets during the Iraq and Afghan wars, the military bureaucracy — the so called “tail” in the tooth-to-tail ratio — became bloated.

These trims to the Air Force’s back office are most likely to fall heavily on contractors. Military staffs consist of officers, civilian defense employees and contractors and of the three, the contractors are the easiest to trim quickly.

Military officers and civilian personnel will be transferred or allowed to retire over time, but contracts for staff work can be cut and workers sent packing on relatively short notice. Companies like Booz Allen Hamilton and CACI, which do lots of this kind of work, are likely to feel the pinch fairly soon.

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