Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said Pentagon and Congressional budget cutters should look at eliminating extra bureaucracy before slashing funds for sailors and ships.

Mabus said 20 percent of the Pentagon budget is spent on what he called “pure overhead” — items not directly linked to readiness or ongoing operations, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank.

He referred to this “overhead” as the fourth estate, specifying entities such as the office of the Secretary of Defense, defense agencies and organizations fun by the Under Secretaries of Defense.

“There are other places to look rather than taking tools from the warfighter. They are harder to find and get to but we can put more in the tooth and less in the tail. To the extent you can, protect the stuff that actually gets to the warfighter. Don’t protect the form, protect the function,” Mabus said.

Pentagon bureaucracy has grown at a much faster rate than the services, even during the time following the major funding decreases related to the drawdown of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mabus explained.

Mabus explained that $300 million in funding for the Pentagon’s Defense Finance and Accounting Service, or DFAS, has not been fully or properly accounted for.

“Last year they charged us $300 million dollars to write the checks,” he said.

Mabus also said the Navy is making great progress saving money through the establishment of what he called “contract courts.”

“Every year every contractor has to bring in their contracts and defend them,” he added.

The courts address questions such as whether what a given contract provides is still needed and whether a contract has been competed in recent years.

“We’re saving 10-percent which is $4 billion per year. That is more than two Virginia-class submarines that we are saving right there,” Mabus explained.

– Kris Osborn can be reached at Kris.Osborn@military.com