This story has been updated with comment from the White House.
WASHINGTON — The White House press secretary disputed claims that the US Department of Defense swept under the rug an internal report that described $125 billion worth of administrative waste in the agency's business operations, noting that it was "available to anybody in the world that had a live internet connection and a relatively modern web browser."
The Washington Post story, which alleged that the report was buried, was based upon a document that Defense News reported about in January 2015, noted Press Secretary Josh Earnest, "an indication that this is a document that was available to other members of the public, including other journalists who carefully cover the Pentagon."
"I'll also point out that, at least as of this morning, the report was available to anybody in the world that had a live internet connection and a relatively modern web browser because it was available at the Pentagon website," he added.
In January 2015, Defense News reported that the Pentagon's Defense Business Board recommended the department slash $125 billionin spending over the next five years by reducing services from contractors, implementing early retirements, reworking contracts and reducing administrative costs.
The report had been ordered by Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work in an October 2014 memo, asking a civilian panel to form a task group "to review and recommend changes to the Department's current plans for enterprise modernization."
"My goal is to modernize our business processes and supporting systems and create an agile enterprise shared services organization in order to reduce costs, maximize return on investment, and improve performance," Work wrote.
According to the Post, the internal report uncovered more wasteful spending than was predicted, and senior defense officials reacted by concealing the information.
A defense official, who spoke to Defense News on condition of anonymity prior to the release of an official response from the Pentagon, praised the internal report as having "some good points."
"We don't hate the report," the official said. "The problem is the lack of — well, it's the very vague recommendations in the report. ... It doesn't get into the specifics we need."
Washington-based consultancy firm Avascent, in a May 2016 analysis of the DoD's Operations & Maintenance (O&M) budget, split O&M funds into six capability categories, which may apply to more than one branch of the military:
"You’d expect areas like aviation, maritime and land forces to consume the bulk of the budget. But the largest category by far is what we have termed 'Enterprise-wide,' " said Douglas Berenson, a managing director at Avascent.
Approximately 40 percent of the O&M budget is associated with enterprise-wide costs, he said, as opposed to operational forces.
Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, which investigates charges of misconduct in the federal government, said the allegation by The Post is a "perfect illustration of the three biggest problems affecting the Defense Department: a contractor workforce that costs too much; a culture of secrecy; and a fear that exposing waste will lead to cuts in defense spending."
"In 2014, POGO
then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel about a 'concerted effort' by DoD officials to 'willfully breach laws and congressional mandates' that require better tracking of service contracts," she said. "This effort blinds the agency to potentially billions of dollars in wasteful spending."
Chris Martin is the managing editor for Defense News. His interests include Sino-U.S. affairs, cybersecurity, foreign policy and his yorkie Willow.