The good news: A Pentagon-requested study on administrative waste turned up plenty of fodder for officials to work with in streamlining operations. The bad news: The study found so much internal waste—$125 billion worth—that Pentagon officials seemingly tried to squash it, based on interviews and secret memos seen by the Washington Post. The report, issued in January 2015 by the Defense Business Board, found what the Post refers to as a "bloated bureaucracy," with nearly a quarter of the defense budget used on overhead and administrative costs like HR and accounting. The study offered the DOD a five-year plan to save that $125 billion (including through attrition and maximizing its IT capabilities), at which point it appears enthusiasm for the report waned as Pentagon brass worried future military funds would be cut if Congress and the White House got wind of the results.
The Post details how the Pentagon went into downplay mode, restricting the study's data and taking down a public summary. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, the Pentagon's No. 2 official, commissioned the report—even after one board member warned him "you are about to turn on the light in a very dark room"—but his stance shifted when the study was done. "There is this meme that we're some bloated, giant organization," Work told the Post, noting the study "vastly overstates what's really going on." He noted it's not easy to carry out some of the board's suggestions, including getting rid of federal jobs, though he says the Pentagon will partly implement some of them to bring an estimated $30 billion in savings by 2020. "We're the largest bureaucracy in the world," Work said. "There's going to be some inherent inefficiencies in that." (Read the Post story for the behind-the-scenes infighting.)