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Public Affairs Cuts in the DoD Budget Efficiencies Memo (UPDATED)

The long awaited budget cutting efficiencies promised by Secretary of Defense Gates were outlined in a decision memo signed on Monday, 14 March, 2011 and now making its way around the Pentagon much to the chagrin of many in the building. I did a quick pull of the specific hits in the public affairs and strategic communications mission areas for my company, ScoutComms and posted it to our blog at http://scoutcommsusa.com/?p=225 and here as well. There are some very substantial changes for PAO functions in the DoD.

After some feedback from officials in DoD we have also updated portions of this analysis to accurately reflect the actual changes. Specifically we mistakenly identified the four AFN “sub-command headquarters” as “affiliates”. I apologize for any confusion that might have caused. We have also clarified that only the military outreach portions of the ESGR and Yellow Ribbon programs are being cut. Happy to make any other changes to ensure this is accurate information.


U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates issued a memo dated March 14, 2011 titled Track Four Efficiency Initiatives Decisions which lays out the results of the ongoing studies by the various DoD organizations on ways to save money and cut overhead. Mr. Gates has been previewing many of these ideas since January but this memo is the official order. Further guidance will be issued but the decisions are essentially made and now it is only left to be implemented.

Specific Changes

ScoutComms has examined the document specifically with an eye towards its effect on public affairs and strategic communications missions. There are significant impacts for the various public affairs functions with what could very well be major cuts in personnel as well as reorganizations to existing commands, agencies and directorates.

Some of the significant changes include:

(1) Consolidation of the speech writing teams at the Office of the Secretary of Defense-Public Affairs (OSD-PA) and elimination of the Director of the Writers Group Senior Executive Service (SES) position;

(2) Elimination of the Defense Commissary Agencies Outreach and Marketing Program entirely;

(3) Ending production of print versions of the services flagship magazines (Soldiers, All Hands, Marines and Airman) by FY12 and only producing them online with the option to produce annual service almanacs in print. This change will not effect the editorial staffs as they will be retained to publish the online magazines and only saves printing and distribution costs;

(4) Reorganization of the Hometown News Service along regional lines;

(5) Elimination of four of the American Forces Network sub-command headquarters in the Pacific and Atlantic, eliminating four Lieutenant Colonel command billets and the 12 military and 12 civilian slots associated with those organizations;

(6) Ending support of the Syracuse University advanced photojournalism program for enlisted PA’s;

(7) Reduction of 10% of the total military billets at the Defense Media Activity (aggregate of about 19 positions), as well as approximately 40 staff members from the Pentagon Channel and AFN with a yet to be determined mix of civilian, military and contractor billets, and two contractor positions eliminated from the Dynamics Research Corporation contract;

(8) Not filling the Major General Defense Media Activity Director position that has been filled by Mr. Mel Russell for over a year;

(9) Elimination of the Defense Human Resources Agency’s military outreach programs of the Employee Support to the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) recognition and Yellow Ribbon programs leading to the elimination of one civilian position;

(10) Reduction of the Army Chief of Public Affairs (CPA) billet from Major General to a Brigadier and subsequent elimination of the Brigadier General deputy position to align with the other service public affairs organizations that are all led by one-star flag officers;

(11) Elimination of several senior level civilian positions including the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense-Public Affairs Press Secretary;

(12) Elimination of at least five Highly Qualified Expert (HQE) positions from their strategic communications positions among OSD and the services, in addition, the total authorization for HQE’s throughout DoD will be slashed from an authorized, but never filled, 2500 positions down to 350 or less;

(13) Consolidation of the Public Affairs functions for all OSD, defense agencies, field activities and non-permanent task forces under the ASD(PA) except for national intelligence agencies;

(14) A review for justification for all of the publications produced by OSD, defense agencies and field activities to determine whether they are mission critical or should be eliminated;

(15) There are additional transfers of Navy organizations from DMA back to the services for additional cost savings and consolidation;

(16) An indirect effect for public affairs may be felt by a directive for all services to “re-look their respective installation commands and provide feedback on potential restructuring or elimination to reduce levels of bureaucracy and to create cost savings. Specifically, report on exactly what savings have been realized due to existing organizational structure, or savings that could be realized by recommended changes.”


The impacts from these changes are far reaching and there are real concerns about second and third order effects including the losses of dozens of civilian jobs at all levels, the changes in skill set requirements leading to the loss of other employees, a reduction in mission capability for many organizations to tell their own story and the effects these changes will have as they filter down the chain-of-command to unit levels.

We would like feedback from those affected by these changes and whether you see them as positive or negative. What do you think these changes will mean for military public affairs programs?

(This post has been updated twice to address an error in wording on the changes to AFN sub-commands and add greater detail on the HQE eliminations and the previously unmentioned installation command organizational reviews- Fred Wellman)

The full memorandum is available via the Civilian Personnel Management Service here: http://1.usa.gov/fwymVg

For more news and analysis from ScoutComms follow us on Twitter @ScoutComms and www.Facebook.com/ScoutComms

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Darrel W. Cole

Wow. Unfortunately, many governments are facing these same issues. Of course, however, being a public relations professional, I am of the thinking that the last place you cut is in areas of public communication.

Andrew Krzmarzick

This post is significant for the Gov 2.0 movement as it could mark a critical change point in which public affairs via social media is devalued…and if DoD sees it as a great cost-cutting measure, other agencies may follow…especially as the President and Congress are out with chainsaws this budget go-round.

Frederick P. Wellman

The whole document is 48 pages of cuts, changes and reorganizations throughout DoD. In the larger picture the PAO portions are par for the course for everyone. Many of these changes are sort of clean up after creation of organizations like the Defense Media Activity that consolidated the services internal news organizations but didn’t merge them. Others are a little bit more nebulous and will have to see what implementation looks like such as the consolidation of PA functions for the several DoD agencies like DLA, DeCA and others under ASD-PA or the review for efficiencies in the various installation management organizations. Either way like all of the branches of the government its a trying time for our government employee brothers and sisters.

Tarryn Reddy

If they cut budgets from their public affairs programs, doesn’t this reduce DoD’s transparency to the public. The public already has a lack of trust in DoD… how do they plan on getting information to voters and leaders so they can make informed decisions? I especially wonder how this will effect the open government and accountability movement?

Frederick P. Wellman

Andy- I haven’t heard anything but its not my area of expertise as I focus on DoD, aerospace and defense industry PR for the most part so it might not come across my radar. What has surprised me about this memo is how little information has been getting distributed through the ranks on it. I had figured when I did my cut on it that it had already been dissected in that way and I was playing catch up. It seems that is not the case.

Michael Rautio

Great post and the cuts are for the most part reasonable (IMO). I have been around DoD for 15 years and there is some manner of excess. I did talk to someone in the DoD PA community yesterday, and to your point Fred, I was quite surprised that most people have not yet had a chance to read this memo…I would have thought it would have been bigger news around the community…but then again, maybe we have cut to many journalists and replaced them with strategic commnuicators (who don’t see this as a good talking point)….