“Drain the Swamp” – TTG


Pentagon buries evidence of $125 billion in bureaucratic waste

By Craig Whitlock and Bob Woodward

“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.”

“Pentagon leaders had requested the study to help make their enormous back-office bureaucracy more efficient and reinvest any savings in combat power. But after the project documented far more wasteful spending than expected, senior defense officials moved swiftly to kill it by discrediting and suppressing the results.”

“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. Instead, it would have streamlined the bureaucracy through attrition and early retirements, curtailed high-priced contractors and made better use of information technology.”


After the embarrassing debacle of the Washington Post article based on the PropOrNot project, the paper puts out this solid piece of investigative journalism. The article details how the Pentagon insiders have been doing their damnedest to bury a study that details what the DOD spends on “overhead” costs and lays out a plan to reduce those costs. The 77 slide PowerPoint presentation of the study is included with the article. (Death by PowerPoint)

According to the article the Pentagon spends “almost one-quarter of the defense budget on back office business operations” and “has almost as many people working desk jobs as it does active-duty troops.”

Now this seems like a job perfectly tailored for a business guy famous for saying “you’re fired” and another guy who’s nicknamed mad dog. I also recall the Marine Corps customarily turns back a small portion of its annual budget each year as a statement of fiscal responsibility. These two can go for it with my blessing. Just be sure to change the dining facilities back to mess halls and bring the company mess teams back. Damn I miss those mess teams. I could sure go for a plate of SOS with hash browns and scrambled eggs with that slight green tint right about now. 




This entry was posted in government, TTG. Bookmark the permalink.

47 Responses to “Drain the Swamp” – TTG

  1. Tyler says:

    I think you’re going to see a streamlining of civil service rules to deal with obstinate GS 14s and 15s who are buried in the agency like ticks.
    My understanding is that the SES serve at the whim of the President, but I might be wrong.

  2. Swami says:

    Actually, if you read the powerpoint produced by McKinsey it is full of consultant-speak and shows very little understanding of how to change things in a large bureaucracy, and especially one in the public sector operating under Congressional oversight and politics. The $125B number is based on comparisons to (theoretical) performance in the private sector. The recommendations alone are worth a laugh or two.
    This is not to say there aren’t opportunities to control costs in the DoD, but this report is laughable.

  3. Mark Gaughan says:

    That’s $25 billion per year, about 4% of the defense budget.

  4. RHT447 says:

    I like my eggs over easy so I can moosh ’em into my hash browns. What time does the mess hall open? I know you have heard this before–“Better beans make better soldiers”.

  5. Degringolade says:

    All this time I thought that I was abnormal in missing SOS.
    Had a coonass Cajun as a mess sergeant in the leg unit I ETS’ed from. The guy made the best gravy in the history of the planet. He did the whole thing out of the #10 cans of dried stuff and meat of uncertain origin.
    Damn…I’m salivating like Pavlov’s damn dogs.

  6. VietnamVet says:

    This goes back to Al Gore’s reinventing government. The Clinton Administration got rid of the internal government contract controls and brought in private-sector efficiency. That is making money and jumping aboard the revolving door; not national defense. Today the WP also reported that the Obama Administration supports moving the Lockheed Martin’s F-16 production line, lock stock and barrel, from Fort Worth, TX to India.

  7. ked says:

    Good points, even if gleaned from a ppt. 4% waste sounds a little low for a gov agency to me too.
    “… made better use of information technology.”
    therefore, let’s outsource more $ to the IT-flavored bandits within & without the beltway – they’ve done such a fine job to date. the impact of gov outsourcing over the past 20 years has resulted in more than poorly scrambled eggs.
    Col, allow me to point out two significant distinctions about gov contract & private sector business and the underlying reasons that they are (imo) distinct… related to points you made in a previous post about negotiating deals.
    a) gov biz is fundamentally other-directed in nature, fulfilled by people who have never really been in the private sector (civil servants, contractors, folk who went form uniformed services to gov biz & especially since the gov world & private worlds are de-coupled in our times… borg-like).
    b) the accounting systems are distinct to the point that there is no connection – FAR is a world of its own.
    combining these 2 core distinctions makes for worlds that do not overlap, increasingly as time has passed along with generations of workers. anyway, that’s been my experience being in both worlds since the late ’70s.

  8. john says:

    We ate pretty well aboard ship in the Navy. Of course we also paid for our food via mess dues.

  9. Allen Thomson says:

    > That’s $25 billion per year, about 4% of the defense budget.
    It’s also 30% more than the total NASA budget.

  10. SOS or Chipped Beef from the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence (JCCoE) Quartermaster School
    Serves 100
    WATER,WARM 8-1/3 lbs
    MILK,NONFAT,DRY 1-3/4 lbs
    WATER,WARM 31-1/3 lbs
    Separate dried beef slices, cut into 1-inch slices.
    Place beef in 190 F. water. Soak 5 minutes. Drain thoroughly.
    Reconstitute milk. Heat to just below boiling. DO NOT BOIL.
    Combine butter or margarine with flour and pepper; add to milk, stirring constantly. Cook 5 minutes until thickened.
    Add beef to sauce; blend well.

  11. Mark Gaughan has exposed the buried lede. The size of the defense budget is, shall we say, indefensible.

  12. Fred says:

    There’s no reason all the work has to be done in and around D.C. Trump should move federal agencies to low cost states – like Mississippi, West Virginia or even Iowa. It will do wonders to shrink the federal payroll.

  13. turcopolier says:

    “mess dues” I presume you mean commissioned officers. pl

  14. Swami and ked,
    I will not pretend to understand the intricacies of reforming a bureaucracy, or today’s preferred term enterprise, as large as the DOD. I would prefer a bottom up approach where select military installations and units are allowed to be become much more self-sufficient. The first step would be to eliminate the whole warrior bullshit in favor of taking pride in being a soldier (admitted Army bias here). For example, mess teams will replace dining facilities. KP duty will return. The post and ranges would be maintained and guarded by soldiers. Guard mount will be stood by all. Most construction would be done by Army engineering units and troop labor.
    Back in the hollow Army days of the 70s, the 25th Infantry Division took care of Schofield Barracks, Wheeler Air Field and all the field ranges internally. We spent a quarter of our time doing this and it was an integral part of being a soldier. As another example of reducing bureaucracy, I offer another experience from personal history. When I took over a HUMINT detachment in Germany, I immediately stopped sending all recurring reports to the battalion HQ. I did not start sending a report again until I was asked twice to do so. In this way I eliminated three quarters of the monthly recurring reports. We still won detachment of the month on a regular basis. Top down support for these kinds of reforms is needed along with real brass ball, integrity driven leadership at all levels.

  15. Fred,
    But that would mean all the federal agency high muckety-mucks wouldn’t be able to schmooze with all the Congressional muckety-mucks to feather their nests and expand their empires.

  16. turcopolier says:

    I had a mess hall in Panama and then another at Camp Drum for a summer while training reserve component troops. The mess hall guys were from my battalion 2/2 Infantry. The food was outstanding. The mess sergeant at Drum was a Black soldier from the South. He would see me in the morning and sing out “Come on in Lootenant. Aiggs to ordah… I got some fresh made biscuits and Georgia ice cream (grits).” It was sublime. pl

  17. Christopher Fay says:

    I was thinking for a while that the Pentagon should be moved to West Virginia, and any visitors have to take the trip by train. Also Detroit needs a federal bureaucracy there, spread the government spending.

  18. BabelFish says:

    True. Whenever we Corpsmen didn’t like what was being served on the mess deck our first thought was ‘which one of the stewards owes us a favor?’ We hit the jackpot in Naples harbor when we ended with an entire box of frozen lobster tails.

  19. Degringolade,
    Our mess sergeant in C/1/35 was a tiny, cross-eyed Italian who would have been at home behind the butcher counter in a small grocery store in New York’s Little Italy. Like your coonass Cajun, Sal was magician in the mess tent.

  20. ked says:

    I am completely in favor of far less outsourcing & more internal, bottom-up self-sufficiency in the services, in DOD & gov in general, broad terms (all levels). We ought stop gov operations being such a massive (scale & margins) profit center for private enterprise.
    I’d hope for doing so in connection with public service being required of all citizens… on some randomized selection basis. Maybe that would engender a shared national experience and support basic capability / competence (“education?!”) among our citizenry. And maybe I’m dreaming.

  21. pl,
    My introduction to grits was at Benning. I was in jump school as a cadet in July 1973 after signing up for ROTC late that Spring. The ROTC sergeant major was a friend of the Airborne School sergeant major and they made a deal to get me in without the regular paperwork. Anyways, back to the grits. I loaded up a big bowl of what I thought was cream of wheat. I slapped on some butter, poured on the sugar and took a big spoonful. “Jesus! What’s this stuff?” The black hats patrolling the mess hall said take all you want, but eat all you take, so I developed a love for grits by the time I finished that bowl.

  22. Henshaw says:

    This report is only the start. The real objective for McKinsey is to be given a fat, long-term contract to manage the changes recommended in their report. This is McKinsey standard operating procedure.
    re Powerpoint- one of the rarely stated benefits of retirement is that Powerpoint largely ceases to be a feature of your life.

  23. scott s. says:

    Well, since the Division has been back from Iraq/Afghan, at least the MPs are back on the gates here.

  24. Fred says:

    That would be …. Deplorable.

  25. scott s. says:

    Having lived through some of these “business process improvement” projects, I can say good luck. I have yet to see a management that could pull one of these off. It may exist, just have never seen it. I remember Al Gore’s “re-inventing government”. What we got out of that, was a management/Fed union committee that had to discuss the smallest change in working conditions. For example, arguing over where the employee designated smoking area would be when DoD ruled that the cafeteria was to be “smoke free”. This was considered “employee empowerment”.
    As far as “Mad Dog” I have greatest respect for the war-fighter (hell, I was one for my first 10 years) but what works for leadership in battle doesn’t always translate well to the bureaucracy. The PP report seems to get its savings through attrition / reduction in head count and re-classifying positions to lower levels (though with pay-banding I don’t know that that’s as effective as in the past). Part of the “re-inventing government” was to mandate a 15:1 supervisory ratio. How that was achieved was to change most GM-13s to GS-13s styled “team leads” and not supervisors (which actually suited them fine, as they were in engineering series and didn’t really like having to do time cards and performance evals).
    In the PP report appendix, it mentions “cultural issues” as a reason for failure. I would say, nothing gets culture push-back faster than for DoD to tell the services how to do things. Actually, I think if you ask the typical civ/mil person working in the trenches, they would probably say get rid of DoD if you want to increase productivity.
    Another area was the OMB A-79 process to determine what should be “contracted-out”. So you contract it out, and one result is you no longer have the institutional knowledge about the subject area and are dependent on the incumbent contractor, who also has the inside track when re-competed as he knows what the real requirement is.
    Now maybe for mowing the lawn that isn’t a big deal. But I look at something like shipbuilding. We used to build a certain percentage of ships in the government yards so you had people who really knew the business first-hand. This was from the lowest marine machinist through the group supe to the Commander. Now we have to rely on the Supervisor of Shipbuilding offices, who are more contract administrators than anything else. And it’s even worse outside shipbuilding as most administration has gone to DoD DCMA. Same thing with logistics. Where we used to have Navy item managers at SPCC Mechanicsburg, now most all line items have been pushed to DoD DLA.
    But I guess having DoD does give many officers a chance to get that “purple-suit” job on their CVs as mandated by Goldwater-Nichols.

  26. Jay M says:

    see we are deploying all over the place because the terriorist bugs are like fleas
    teh hope is killing me

  27. turcopolier says:

    It was a standard feature of life in the Old Corps at VMI (pre-coloring books)to watch yankee cadets discover that grits are not cream of wheat. pl

  28. charly says:

    India requires that their fighter planes are made in India so the choice is between selling them to India assembled in an Indian factory or not selling F16’s. Also the F16’s were not only made in the US but also The Netherlands, Belgium, Turkey, South Korea and Japan so it is not something new.

  29. Freudenschade says:

    While I’m sympathetic to the idea that the Pentagon is wasteful, I have to call bullshit on this report. Certainly a savings of 4% of the annual defense budget isn’t nothing. If you make your way through the presentation, however, you’ll see it’s the same old McKinsey process improvement bullshit. In this case it’s supposed to be implemented in just eight months and magically the Pentagon procurement process will throw off huge savings.
    I helped McKinsey and other management consultants shovel this bullshit in the private sector (some of the slides look strangely familiar :-)). I imagine transformation is no easier on the government side.

  30. Bandit says:

    This is a good idea since smaller states that need tax base and employers would benefit greatly from the employment opportunities. Spread it around like the various contracts for weapons and military hardware. You can bet lots of congress critters would jump at the chance to have some federal agency stationed in their home state. With the advent of the internet there is absolutely no need for federal agencies to be in close proximate distance from each other.

  31. Stumpy says:

    I’d say Boeing took their punch on the chin fairly gracefully.
    Pentagon almost blew the whistle on themselves? Until the “contractors” saw their gold toilet seat orders in the reticle.

  32. Pundita says:

    “People all throughout Aleppo are heard shouting Allah-u-Akbar (God is Great) from their rooftops and mosques in a show of joy and victory.”
    Wed December 07, 2016 – 7:39 [local time]
    URGENT: Syrian Army On Verge of Epoch-Making Victory in Aleppo
    TEHRAN (FNA)- Aleppo is to be announced a completely liberated city by the Syrian army any moment now after hundreds of terrorists surrendered to the Syrian army at the end of daylong secret talks with government officials in Eastern Aleppo, while the remaining few hundreds under a now very tight siege have agreed to the Damascus terms to evacuate the city in less than two days.
    Hundreds of militants left Aleppo city on Green Buses Tuesday night after they removed barricades at Bab Al-Hadid Square (the Iron Gate) in Southeastern Aleppo and allowed civilians to evacuate the war zone hours earlier.
    The militants of Fatah Al-Halab (Conquest of Aleppo) – one of a dozen terrorist groups operating under the umbrella of Jeish Al-Fatah coalition – surrendered almost all Old Aleppo districts after the Syrian Army’s swift advances West of the Aleppo International Airport risked splitting them apart from their comrades further South.
    The terrorists gave up fight and requested ceasefire talks with the government after their massive counteroffensive at Karm Al-Maysar and Karm Al-Qaterjy failed to yield any gains. Making matters worse for the insurgents, the Syrian Armed Forces would proceed to capture Sha’ar district, and the nearby Turbet Lala, Qadi Askar and Qarleq districts to arrive at Bab Al-Hadid on Tuesday.
    Later in the day, the militants engaged in secret negotiations with government officials in Aleppo to surrender the Old Aleppo quarter and leave the city.
    Bab Al-Hadid Square is a few hundred yards North-East of Aleppo Citadel and is the borderline of the Old Aleppo quarter to the East.
    The only pocket of Jeish Al-Fatah terrorists now remaining in the city are mostly from Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front (recently renamed to Fatah Al-Sham Front) and Noureddin Al-Zinki that are further to the South in Bostan al-Qasr (Also Bostan Alkaser) and its adjacent districts and under a very tight siege of the army and Hezbollah troops.
    Early Wednesday morning reports by several regional Arab media outlets quoted rebel sources as declaring that factions operating in the few remaining Eastern Aleppo districts have now agreed to pull out completely.
    The Arab media and activists all confirmed that the terrorists have been negotiating with Russia through representatives in Turkey over an evacuation plan from Eastern Aleppo.
    Reports suggested that a Turkish-Russian agreement has been reached over the surrender of the remaining East Aleppo districts under jihadists’ control after extended negotiations between leaders of opposition groups and Russian officers in Turkey.
    The Syrian army also confirmed that militants will start leaving Aleppo in 48 hours.
    Meantime, militants have started confirming through their social media pages and websites that they are to leave Aleppo after several years, acknowledging defeat.
    Over the last two days terrorists’ affiliated media outlets have been sending consoling messages, saying ‘we are losing Aleppo but we will fight in other places’, showing that they were preparing to surrender Aleppo, but the messages appearing on these media now are all filled with sorrow, acknowledging final defeat.
    On the other side of the war, radio exchanges are heard among Syrian army and Hezbollah commanders felicitating each other on the landmark victory that is a turning point in the war on terrorism in Syria and will be of unrivaled weight at any political talks on the future of Syria.
    People all throughout Aleppo are heard shouting Allah-u-Akbar (God is Great) from above their rooftops and mosques in a show of joy and victory.
    Aleppo will once again see a calm day and there will be many family reunions when citizens come together from the West and the East to celebrate the end of war in their city. They will shed tears, but this time of joy, today or tomorrow.

  33. Cortes says:

    On the “institutional knowledge” issue, a proper rotation scheme to prevent empire building by incumbents is probably a good idea. Perhaps scheduling rotation from 18-36 months in post (depending on the technical skill set needed) would contribute to enhanced esprit de corps and reduced tendency for the myth of indispensability emerging?

  34. Pundita says:

    UPDATE 5:25 AM EST re my earlier comment around 3:30 AM
    FARS reported earlier today “Aleppo is to be announced a completely liberated city by the Syrian army any moment now.”
    This is turning into a long ‘any moment now.’ AMN is reporting today (no time stamp) that 10,000 civilians are still stuck in a ‘pocket’ in E. Aleppo. Although various MSM reports, including one from the BBC filed about 50 minutes ago, say that the “old city” has fallen to the Syrian Army coalition, FARS seems to be the only source reporting up to this point that the entire city has been liberated. Irrational exuberance, perhaps? sigh.

  35. Pundita says:

    6:36AM I know as soon as i give up and go to sleep that’s when the Syrian government will declare total victory n Aleppo but I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. Over and out.

  36. Pundita says:

    7:14 AM
    “However, the battle for east Aleppo is far from over for the Syrian Arab Army, as the jihadist rebels still maintain control over the strategic Marjah, Sheikh Lufti, and Sheikh Sa’eed districts.”
    Syrian Army officially enters surrendered east Aleppo districts
    By Leith Fadel – 07/12/2016
    BEIRUT, LEBANON (1:15 PM) – The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has officially entered two of the recently surrendered districts of east Aleppo today after the militants fled the area, per the Russian-Turkish agreement.
    According to an Al-Masdar field correspondent, the Syrian Arab Army’s elite Tiger Forces entered the Kadi Asker and Bab Al-Hadid districts of east Aleppo, following the departure of the jihadist rebels earlier this morning.
    As a result of yesterday night’s surrender by the jihadist rebels, the Syrian Arab Army now controls the entire area around the Aleppo Citadel, including the provincial capital’s second largest mosque that was turned into a militant base.
    However, the battle for east Aleppo is far from over for the Syrian Arab Army, as the jihadist rebels still maintain control over the strategic Marjah, Sheikh Lufti, and Sheikh Sa’eed districts.

  37. The Beaver says:

    The real objective for McKinsey is to be given a fat, long-term contract to manage the changes recommended in their report. This is McKinsey standard operating procedure.
    Yep, then you will find entry-level “project consultants” commuting on a weekly basis , all expenses paid, to do that .

  38. LG says:

    This blog might interest you field ration gourmands

  39. Ken Roberts says:

    Re procurement practices, it might be fun to review this film — which was reminded by an earlier post, re another Cary Grant movie. The logistics methods used by supply officer Tony Curtis proved to be pretty effective.
    Operation Petticoat —

  40. LeaNder says:

    I share prejudices against the trade. Even lower staff, ideally available around the clock to produce Powerpoint condensations are quite well paid.

  41. mike allen says:

    Nothing better than some mess hall SOS with a dash or two of Tabasco to spice it up. Had one mess sargent that ground up some spicy Portuguese sausage into the gravy so you did not even need the tabasco.
    On the other hand, nothing is worse than those green powdered eggs in your mess tray while on an LST rolling in the waves from a distant typhoon. Even the old salts would be lining the rail, “calling for Ralph” as we used to say.

  42. shepherd says:

    I work on the other side and am familiar with this kind of thing. At rough glance, this might just be a blue sky project, not a serious proposal. The idea is that if you work in an organization, you tend to be constrained by the reality of what you do every day. So, if you want out-of-the-box ideas, you hire some outside researchers, don’t give them background, and allow them to think about how transformation could work. That sort of thing does have its place, but it shouldn’t be taken seriously, but rather as a fresh perspective, a set of ideas that may or may not be practical. If so, a lot of the data is probably imaginary or fudged.
    Whatever this study was or why it was done, it has likely been stripped of its original context and a new context has been supplied to anger people.

  43. Macgupta123 says:

    FYI, 1947 law:
    U.S. Code › Title 10 › Subtitle A › Part I › Chapter 2 › § 113
    “(a) There is a Secretary of Defense, who is the head of the Department of Defense, appointed from civilian life by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. A person may not be appointed as Secretary of Defense within seven years after relief from active duty as a commissioned officer of a regular component of an armed force.”
    So Congress will have to pass a waiver for Trump’s nominee.

  44. shepherd says:

    For what it’s worth, the process by which a probably harmless research project can quickly become an alarming story about a Pentagon cover up of a vital cost-saving plan is described here:

  45. A.I.Schmelzer says:

    Having been some manner of “consultant” (interesting life experience) once, that report strikes me as the typical consultant bullshit.
    It reads like the standard copy and paste McKinsey report, which is massaged by some 22 year old “senior analyst” before it is send to the people who ordered it. Now, some consultants are very very useful, but the McKinsey type may well be the least useful subspecies.
    Some of the charts have a buzzword to normal word ratio that is totally off the chart, and basically that report resulted in a constant activation of my internal bullshit sensor.

  46. mike allen,
    Being on an LST in a typhoon must be pure hell. I was on the USS Cleveland sailing through a typhoon. We were accompanied by a Philippine Navy LST. That flat bottomed old girl was tossed around like a cork. In the morning, as we approached the landing beach, the LST suddenly kicked up a rooster tail heading straight for the beach. She was sinking and had to beach herself.
    In the wardroom on the Cleveland earlier that evening, we had corned beef and cabbage. I could see the two young 2LTs in our company were getting queasy. I took a big forkful of corned beef with mustard and fresh horseradish and waved it under their noses. They both ran out to “look for sea snakes” as we called it on that cruise. Back in Hawaii we called it looking for lava snakes.

  47. Tyler says:

    TTG, Chris, Fred, Bandit,
    I think along the same vein. Why the BPHQ in D.C. versus on the southwest border?
    They were good enough to station the Academy in the damn middle of nowhere FFS.

Comments are closed.