When the Pentagon commissioned an internal study of its bureaucracy last year in an attempt to improve efficiency, they were not prepared for the evidence of massive wasteful spending that turned up. So, senior defense officials moved to cover up the findings of the report, which identified a staggering $125 billion – an amount larger than annual expenditure on unemployment relief – that could be saved by streamlining the Pentagon’s massive back-office and contracting operations.
The report, produced by the Defense Business Board, combed through personnel and cost data to reach some shocking conclusions. Everyone knew the Pentagon had become a bloated bureaucracy, but the scale of the mismanagement identified in the report was shocking. For example the Department of Defense now employs more than one million people in back-office or contracting positions, almost as many as the 1.3 million active duty troops. Moreover, almost 25% of the total defense budget is being spent on what are called “core business operations,” essentially back-office and white-collar jobs. It was from that tremendous chunk of change that the report suggested $125 billion could be saved through re-organization, streamlining, and more efficient use of technology.
Pentagon leaders, however, feared that the shocking waste revealed in the report would undermine their claims that the military was starved for cash and encourage Congress to make cuts to the swollen defense budget. So, they killed the report, imposed secrecy restrictions on its findings, and removed all evidence that such a report had ever even existed. It was a cynical political move that Robert Stein, chairman of the Defense Business Board, called “a travesty.”
Robert Work, the Deputy Secretary of Defense and the man who originally commissioned the study, was defensive when interviewed by the Washington Post recently, calling the proposed savings “unrealistic” despite the fact that he has repeatedly touted the department’s drive for efficiency in the past and had ordered the commission to produce “specific and actionable recommendations.” That the commission certainly did, but the top brass, ever greedy for more Congressional dollars to finance their empire of death, did not like the suggestion that so much money was being wasted at the Pentagon.
Unsurprisingly, there has been nary a peep from so-called fiscal conservatives about the enormous bureaucratic waste at their beloved Defense Department. While social welfare programs like TANF and SNAP (food stamps) that have a fraction of the budget and perform a vital and often life-saving task have been endlessly attacked as wasteful by Republicans, the revelations of waste at the Pentagon, much less the unfathomably large defense budget in general, are apparently sacred ground.
So, thanks to cynical political maneuverings, $125 billion, an amount that could fund the Department of Education for two years, will be essentially flushed down the toilet just to be sure the toy soldiers in Arlington can have every fighter jet they want. Moreover, the American people will continue to watch its money evaporate in the Pentagon’s maze of operations. Indeed if the commission’s figures are correct then the Pentagon is wasting $514 of the average taxpayer’s money every year. And nothing is being done about it.
James DeVinne is a student at American University in Washington, DC majoring in International Service with a focus on the Middle East and South Asia. He is a founding member of Occupy Baltimore and interns at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.