06/04/2011 12:39 pm ET Updated Aug 04, 2011

Did Robert Gates Terminate 30 DOD Hardware Programs, Saving $300 Billion?

For months I have been reading in the press about Robert Gates cancelling more than 30 [defense hardware] programs. A May 24 Bloomberg article by Viola Gienger ("Gates Says Military Cuts May Protect F-35, Submarines") came up quick on a Google search. Other articles credit Gates with saving more than $300 billion with these -- presumably tough -- decisions.

In case you are wondering where this imagery of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as a tough task master for out-of-control DOD procurement is coming, you need look no further than Robert Gates.

At a May 24 farewell speech to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, Gates repeated his own claim, made frequently earlier, that "All told, over the past two years, more than 30 programs were cancelled, capped, or ended that, if pursued to completion, would have cost more than $300 billion." (See the speech here.) A bit later he hammered home the point, in case any of the press present missed the legacy Gates seeks for himself: "... when it comes to our military modernization accounts, the proverbial 'low hanging fruit' -- those weapons and other programs considered most questionable -- have not only been plucked, they have been stomped on and crushed."

Robert Gates did not reduce the number of hardware programs in the Department of Defense; he increased them. A term he has repeatedly expressed distaste for ("math") proves him wrong. DOD keeps periodic records on these sorts of things; DOD's Selected Acquisition Reports (SARs) track the number of major hardware programs and their acquisition costs. (Find them here.) They show the following:

In September 2008, just before Barack Obama was elected and selected Robert Gates as his Secretary of Defense, there were 91 Major Defense Acquisition Programs (MDAPs). They were projected to cost $1,648 billion dollars.

In April 2009, Gates announced the termination of various defense programs. The SAR that next came out, in December 2009, showed the number of MDAPs had indeed declined: to 87 programs, costing a little less ($1,616 billion).

Nine months later, after Gates took some more whacks at the defense budget -- if that's what you want to call them -- the SAR that came out in September 2010 showed the number of MDAPs had increased to 94. Their cost also increased -- to $1,679 billion.

The most recent SAR, for December 2010, shows another increase, both in programs (to 95) and money (to $1,720 billion).

So, thanks to Secretary Gates' "termination" of more than 30 programs "saving" us $300 billion, we now have an increase of four programs costing an additional $72 billion.

I have two questions:

Just what legacy should we be giving Mr. Gates?

What type of "math" will Leon Panetta use when he is made Secretary of Defense later this year?