By Gordon Adams
If you follow my column on Foreign Policy, you know I have been hammering away at how Secretary Hagel and crew can dig deeper on overhead than they have signaled so far. At 42 percent of the budget, most of it infrastructure and not readiness, it is a prime target for budget discipline. Sometimes the department heads that way, sometimes the department’s waste is just ridiculous.
The “sublime” piece here refers to the memorandum Deputy Secretary Ash Carter sent out to the services on July 31, following up on the 20 percent reduction in headquarters the secretary announced a couple of weeks ago. There is a small piece of ridiculous here, because, like too much of what the secretary is asking for, it is back-loaded, meaning most of it will happen after this crew has left the Pentagon. Which means it might not happen.
Set that aside for a moment. It is a good idea, and Carter has followed up with some more details. The memorandum makes it clear that the 20 percent reductions have to cover a pretty broad swath of DOD’s jungle of headquarters — from the secretary’s office through the Joint Staff, and on into the defense agencies, the service secretaries and chiefs’ offices, the major commands, and even down to lower senior management levels.
Haven’t done the body count, but it is thousands of people. And the memo is a good start, though too slow. And there’s a caveat: The 20 percent cut applies to budget resources, not to the number of people, though the memo encourages the services to “strive for” getting 20 percent out of the people.
And another caveat: The memo refers to “contract services” but is not clear whether the various offices should go after some of the 700,000 contractors who sit next to the desks of the civil servants. It would be good to be more clear on that — the contractor personnel number almost as many as the civil servants at DOD.
But it’s a good start. Now to the “ridiculous,” as reported by the Associated Press on July 31. Seems that there is a lot of spare equipment and stuff lying around at the Pentagon that they bought but don’t want. So rather than careful buying, to ensure we don’t throw good stuff away, the various offices at DOD buy it, store it, or use it, and give it away — especially, as it turns out, to rural police departments.
The local cops are all too eager to help themselves to things they often cannot even use — like bayonets (to prod cattle?), fat fryers, meat slicers (to cut up the prodded cattle?), pool tables (for those down times at the station), playground equipment, and decontamination machines (in case there is a bio weapons attack from the cow sheds?). The Morven, GA, police department has picked up more than $4 million in such excess over the past decade.
Inventory control is a hardy perennial at DOD — today’s Radar O’Reillys want to have it on hand, just in case, even though we are in a “just in time” inventory world. Then they don’t need it, and then they give it away.
Aside from the fun, supply management and inventory control are just another place for the secretary to look if he wants savings he can apply to the forces he thinks we need and the technology they really need to have.
Good start on the people; watch the back door as you bear down on the problem, Mr. Secretary.