The Navy plans to close the Naval Material Command in Crystal City in the first of several actions that Secretary John F. Lehman Jr. says will shrink if not slay the "incredible and unwieldy monster" of bureaucracy that has grown up within the nation's military since World War II.

The command, which oversees procurement of billions of dollars worth of Navy weapons, has 549 employes, 440 civilian and 109 military, according to Navy officials. Many of them will be transferred to other jobs, but an undetermined number may have to find new work, officials said.

Elimination of the command would represent a return to the kind of structure the Navy had before then-Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara and others began consolidating functions in the 1960s.

Under Lehman's plan, specialized Navy bureaus that buy ships, airplanes and other items for the fleet will no longer have to work their way through a bureaucracy before their recommendations reach the chief of naval operations and the Navy secretary. Instead, the heads of these bureaus will report directly to those two top officials.

As Lehman starts his fifth year as Navy secretary, associates said he is determined to slim down not only the Navy's procurement bureaucracy but also its decision-making process, believing that the service is choking on paper and layers of second-guessers.

He expressed his frustrations in an unusual speech before the Navy League Wednesday night that stunned many of the aerospace executives in the audience because of its bluntness about the military bureaucracy, of which Lehman himself is a part.

"What has been created over the past 40 years is an incredible and unwieldy monster" born under the names of "reform, inter-service unity, jointness and reform progress," he said.

He said the office of the secretary of defense has grown from 50 people to 2,000; the staff serving the Joint Chiefs of Staff from its originally intended limit of 100 people to 2,000; the offices of Navy secretary, chief of naval operations and Marine commandant from a total of 300 to 2,000 people.

"The Defense Logistics Agency," Lehman added, "originally was to be the coordinator of commodities" but now numbers 50,000 people. There are 11 defense agencies, nine joint and specified commands with staffs that run into thousands each.

"It is just as bad on the operational side in the proliferation of commands and headquarters as it is on the materiel side in the procurement and management of our resources," Lehman said.

"It is not the fault of any single regime, of any single person, of any single period," he said. "It is the accumulation of the facile, glib solutions of armchair experts who know not whereof they speak."

In vowing to attack the bureaucratic monster within his reach, the Navy secretary said, "We have to reduce the numbers of entities; we have to reduce the size of entities; we have to restore a vertical return to accountability and authority, and return to the concept that it is human beings who do good or who fail to do good" and must be rewarded or punished accordingly.

He indicated that elimination of the Naval Material Command is just the first battle in his newly declared war on the procurement bureaucracy.

Lehman also took a swipe at the "congressional anarchy" represented by the growth of military oversight committees and subcommittees from four to 32 in just the past 10 years.