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EDITORIAL: Gates' move to cut spending is a welcome attitude change

The five-sided money pit called the Pentagon is famously resistant to cost containment. So Secretary of Defense Robert Gates deserves a salute for at least starting the conversation about bringing its spendthrift ways under control.

Make no mistake: The flow of money will still be vast: $700 billion-plus proposed for the coming year. And the savings that Gates has been talking about would come to a mere $100 billion over five years, if Congress lets him get away with it.

But at least Gates is making the right point. On Monday, he said he'd close a big bureaucracy, the Joint Forces Command in Virginia; cut the number of generals and admirals; and reduce reliance on civilian contractors. That won't be easy - generals and contractors all have congressmen - but he said it right: "The culture of endless money that has taken hold must be replaced by a culture of savings and restraint."

That endless money leads to procurement abuses such as the infamous $640 toilet seat. It led former Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to complain that the Pentagon couldn't account for $2.3 trillion in spending. A later Pentagon study pegged the vanished money at a mere trillion, but still, not exactly petty cash.

To those who argue that cost-cutting puts us in danger, the answer is this: Profligate spending doesn't guarantee national security, but it does weaken us economically. The Pentagon must be held as accountable for how it spends its cash as any other agency. hN