Pentagon Bloat Will Sink Ship Programs, Warn Former Navy Officials

By Sandra I. Erwin
Echoes of Donald Rumsfeld were heard on Capitol Hill this week.
The former secretary of defense famously chided the Pentagon’s workforce Sept. 10, 2001: “Despite this era of scarce resources taxed by mounting threats, money disappears into duplicative duties and bloated bureaucracy.”
Twelve years of wars and massive spending later, money once again is becoming tight at the Pentagon. John Lehman, a former secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration, had more tough words for the Pentagon’s civilian and military bureaucracies during a Feb. 26 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee’s seapower and projection forces subcommittee.
Lehman, who testified along with former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead, was asked for his views on the impact of upcoming budget cuts on Navy operations and ship programs. But Lehman said his biggest beef is not with the sequester but with Pentagon bloat that drains resources from combat forces.   
“I think that there is a huge amount of overhead fat in the defense budget,” he said. “I don't see sequester providing the flexibility to remove and cut that overhead that's in both the uniform and the civilian sides of the Pentagon.” Roughead concurred.
Lehman, who served as a national security adviser to former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, said he was alarmed by the Navy’s inability to build ships quickly enough to keep the fleet from shrinking to its lowest level in decades.
He blamed the problem on a lack of accountability that is caused by having too many layers of management and diffused authority. There should be a “clear chain of command over programs once they are approved and started,” he said. “And this should be centered in the services with the oversight of the office of the secretary of defense, but with the line accountability and authority in the services.” The current organization is the byproduct of the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols legislation that sought to promote inter-service collaboration. The military service chiefs were removed from the procurement chain of command.
“A captain is responsible for his ship. A program manager is responsible for his program. And if it goes on the rocks, there are consequences. That is not now the norm in the Department of Defense,” said Lehman. “There's nobody in charge of programs. Everybody's in charge.”
He also faulted the House and the Senate for aiding and abetting unneeded Pentagon spending. After every Pentagon procurement scandal, said Lehman, the “only answer that Congress seems to be able to come up with is add more people. We need a new cost accounting program. We need new contract auditors. … You passed a bill two years ago to add 20,000 civilians to defense procurement. The whole Pentagon only holds 25,000 and you at the snap of a finger added 20,000.”
Sequester budget cuts are not likely to cause a shift in priorities, he said. “We keep growing the bureaucracy and overhead and shrinking the force and shrinking the numbers of products and weapons that we get for the dollars we spend.”
Although he has been an ardent critic of the Obama administration, Lehman credited Pentagon leaders for acknowledging that current trends are unsustainable. “One of the best things that they have produced is the Pentagon's report done by the Defense Business Board on how to gut the bureaucracy and the overhead,” he said. “And what surprised everybody, including the secretary of defense, is how many of our uniformed people never deploy but have become part of the civilian bureaucracy.” The Defense Business Board reported, for instance, that seven “joint task forces” have multiplied to 250 in recent years, “with no particular visible requirement.”
Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., said he plans to continue to put pressure on the Navy to turn around ship procurement programs and to keep current vessels in service longer in order to prevent the fleet from becoming smaller. “It should be noted that at its current strength of 286 ships, under the 30-year shipbuilding plan submitted to Congress, the Navy will not achieve its goal of 306 ships until fiscal year 2039,” Forbes said. “Given our past record of meeting long-term goals, I seriously question the viability of the shipbuilding plans presented in the out-years of the 30-year plan.” He cited Congressional Budget Office estimates that in the first 10 years of the 30-year shipbuilding plan, the cost will be 11 percent higher than the Navy's projection. “It is because of this issue of affordability that I agree with both Secretary Lehman and Admiral Roughead on the need for acquisition reform.”
Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Budget, DOD Leadership, Shipbuilding

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