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Government Executive Editor in Chief Tom Shoop, along with other editors and staff correspondents, look at the federal bureaucracy from the outside in.

The Gates Speech, Part One: The Context

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That was one big speech from Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Kansas on Saturday. (See the CongressDaily story here and the transcript here.) So big, in fact, that I'm going to use a series of posts to examine it.

First, let's look at the context: the address took place at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kan. Eisenhower, of course, is a man known primarily for two things: victory in World War II and warning against the growth of the military-industrial complex. It was clearly no accident that Gates chose this location to make his case for cutting the Defense bureaucracy. He noted Eisenhower's efforts to rein in military spending, quoting him directly: "I say the patriot today is the fellow who can do the job with less money."

Of course, there's another context, too. Gates acknowledged that he was "fully aware of the fact that I am not the first in this office to make this case and or call for this effort." Indeed, he noted that his predecessor Donald Rumsfeld, had launched his own crusade against the Pentagon bureaucracy. Unfortunately, that endeavor was unveiled in speech on Sept. 10, 2001, and was pushed well beyond the back burner by the events of the following day.

Now, though, Gates just might be in a position to make some headway. He's got very little left to lose at this point. He had to be coaxed into taking the top Pentagon job during the Bush administration, and then to stay for the Obama transition. He doesn't need this job. Nor does he need to curry favor with anyone on Capitol Hill, in the defense industrial base -- or in the White House, for that matter. So if anyone can take on all the forces arrayed against change in Defense operations, Gates just might be the guy.

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

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