Pentagon officials: Spending is bloated

By Walter H. Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Top Defense Department officials told Congress Tuesday that Pentagon overspending must be curtailed in order to maintain the current size and strength of the armed forces.

Explaining the reasons for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates's ambitious program to reduce costs, Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "headquarters and support bureaucracies, military and civilian alike . . . have swelled to cumbersome proportions, grown over-reliant on contractors and become accustomed to operating with little consideration of costs."

To decrease what Lynn described as the "department's massive overhead costs and structure," he said that task forces are at work to find $100 billion in cuts over the next five years by "targeting unnecessary excess and duplication in the defense enterprise." Reaching that goal would enable the money to be spent on warfighter needs and reduce funding increases, he said.

Expanding on statements by Gates, Lynn said contractors had grown to 39 percent of the Pentagon workforce from 26 percent since 2001 because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the availability of supplemental funding. "Many of these recently outsourced service support and advisory contractors are actually carrying out functions that should be performed by government employees," he said.

Ashton B. Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, told the senators that more than $200 billion was being spent annually for contractors that provide information technology, facilities upkeep, weapons system maintenance and transportation.

"Believe it or not," he said, "our practices for buying such services are even less effective than for buying weapons systems."

Carter said one of the fastest-growing contractor areas was for personnel to advise or augment military staffs in areas in which they lacked expertise, such as information operations. These contracts have been handled by Pentagon civilian and military personnel who were experienced in buying ships and airplanes but, as Carter put it, were "amateurs" when it came to contracts for augmentation of military staffs.

Gates, a former director of central intelligence, has ordered a "zero-based review" of Pentagon intelligence activities that is being coordinated with a broader effort by Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper Jr., the new director of national intelligence, who had served at the Pentagon. Lynn said that since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the two wars there had been a "proliferation of new intelligence organizations and operations" that was "not centrally directed or coordinated." As a result, he said, "there is a high probability of redundancy and overlap . . . that can be reduced or eliminated."

Gates has already ordered a 10 percent cut in intelligence advisory and assistance contracts for this year and froze the number of senior executives in defense intelligence positions.

The Pentagon officials conceded one of the biggest areas of cost escalation has been in health care for military members and their dependents. Even these are being reviewed and they promised that proposals to restrain the growth would be included in the fiscal 2012 defense budget.

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