Shrinking DOD’s Headquarters Could Mean Big Savings

DVIDSThe Pentagon may be the most iconic, but the Department of Defense has numerous headquarters operations around the world. Each is staffed by thousands of people and costs hundreds of millions of dollars—and these headquarters have been growing.

For today’s WatchBlog, we take you on a world tour of DOD headquarters, efforts to trim them, and how these cuts could add up to big savings for DOD.

DOD’s multiple multimillion dollar headquarters

A sprawling agency, DOD has multiple headquarters at multiple levels. Among the top are the headquarters of the Joint Staff, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, military services, and the 3 functional combatant commands. These headquarters combine for a huge workforce and major costs—almost 27,000 authorized military and civilian positions and $4.7 billion in fiscal year 2013.

Then there are headquarters for each of the 6 geographic combatant commands—those responsible for securing specific parts of the globe. Perhaps the best known, the Florida-based U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM, is responsible for the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia.

Moreover, each command can have several components, each again with its own headquarters. For example, the United States Strategic Command—which conducts global operations to deter and detect strategic attacks, like cyberattacks—has 13 components, each with a headquarters.

GAO-14-439 map (Excerpted from interactive graphic in GAO-14-439. To use the interactive features, download the report PDF, go to p.8 of the report, and roll your mouse over the combatant command name to see its headquarters locations.)

DOD headquarters costs are not only large, but we found they have been growing. Take, for example, the headquarters for the 3 functional combatant commands: U.S. Special Operations Command, U.S. Strategic Command, and U.S. Transportation Command.

They spent $215 million in fiscal year 2001 to support their headquarters operations. In fiscal year 2013? About $1.2 billion.

GAO-14-439(Excerpted from GAO-14-439)

Trying to cut back

In July 2013, the Secretary of Defense directed a 20% cut to headquarters spending throughout DOD. However, those cuts were restricted to “management headquarters”—meaning higher-level staff who support headquarters operations. As a result, the cuts applied to only about a quarter of the headquarters staff we examined.

For commands we reviewed, if DOD broadened its headquarters-reduction efforts to include total headquarters budgets, it could save $47 million with every 1% cut (minus any implementation costs). Moreover, the headquarters organizations we examined represent a small fraction of the total DOD headquarters resources. If DOD implemented larger reductions, department-wide savings could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars a year.


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