Small Wars Journal

Does the Pentagon Really Waste $125 Billion on Pencil Pushers?

Does the Pentagon Really Waste $125 Billion on Pencil Pushers? By Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

The Washington Post has a big article up tonight about military waste:

Pentagon hid study exposing $125 billion in wasteful spending

The Pentagon has buried an internal study that exposed $125 billion in administrative waste in its business operations amid fears Congress would use the findings as an excuse to slash the defense budget, according to interviews and confidential memos obtained by The Washington Post....The report, issued in January 2015, identified “a clear path” for the Defense Department to save $125 billion over five years. The plan would not have required layoffs of civil servants or reductions in military personnel.

Hmmm. I have some doubts about this. For starters, that $125 billion is over five years. That comes to $25 billon per year, or about 4 percent of the defense budget. That's not peanuts, but it hardly seems big enough to represent "far more wasteful spending than expected," as the article says.

But that's not the main thing that makes me skeptical about this. My big problem is that this is a McKinsey report, and I have a fairly cynical view of McKinsey-driven "process improvement" blather. For example, the report suggests that the Pentagon can save loads of money by increasing its back-office productivity by 4-8 percent per year. "Private sector industries commonly show similar gains," they say merrily, so why not the Pentagon?...

Read on.



Thu, 12/08/2016 - 8:26pm

In reply to by Azor

The fact that DOD was able to do these things with more constrained resources shouldn't be a surprise. Constrained resources, and the increased oversight in their spending forces DOD to make real decision regarding where it will invest. Ideally the same scrutiny will be applied when money is more profligate, but in my experience it is not the case.


Thu, 12/08/2016 - 11:50am

In reply to by Morgan

I completely agree, Morgan. It is a number being used to bolster the mandate of the 115th Congress to cut spending. The more resources are given to defense, the more waste will rise on an absolute basis, but the DOD has performed admirably during the period of sequestration, especially with Ash Carter at the helm. To think that the Columbia, Virginia, F-35, B-21, LRSO, LRASM, railgun, laser, cyber and other high-end programs are being advanced in the current financial straits, whilst the profligate DOD under Rumsfeld and Gates wasted an eye-watering amount of resources on low-end counter-insurgencies (while reducing the F-22 order), speaks volumes about the DOD today.

I'm generally not a fan of anything from "Mother Jones" but this article seems pretty spot-on in its assessment of the McKinsey findings. Attempting the recommended changes within the government bureaucracy in anything under a decade (and they think 8 months??) is ridiculous.