DoD Reform and Congressional Recalcitrance

Stephen DeAngelis

May 26, 2006

Two articles in the most recent issue of Defense News caught my eye. The first was a short essay by John Hamre, President of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a respected Washington DC think tank. Hamre is also a former staffer for the Senate Armed Services Committee as well as a former DoD Comptroller. His article (“DoD Urgently Needs New Management Approach”) focuses on this rhetorical question, “Can [the U.S. Congress] pass a new landmark bill to transform the department 20 years [after it passed the landmark Goldwater-Nichols Act] to deal with today’s problems?” Hamre’s answer is a simple “no.”

He posits that Goldwater-Nichols was spurred by failures such as the Desert One fiasco in Iran and the bungling invasion of Grenada. The DoD, he argues, is facing no such failures today. The U.S. military is a well-trained and equipped fighting force. Hamre does admit that “we don’t know how to win the victory in a ‘postcombat’ Iraq.” This is not news to anyone who has read anything by Enterra’s Senior Managing Director, Tom Barnett. Tom has been preaching for years that the force required to win the war is very different from the force required to secure the peace. Hamre must also recognize that this requires two different forces since he drops the subject there. The problems that Hamre addresses

are largely invisible to the public: a logistics and transportation system grounded in 40-year-old organizations and processes, a personnel system so arcane that no one outside the department understands it, an annual budget process so elaborate and cumbersome that it consumes thousands of man years in its preparation and produces only minor changes year to to year, and an elaborate acquisition process that makes the development and production of new systems even slower and more expensive.

The fact that some of these problems weren’t fixed years ago is almost incomprehensible. Wal-Mart, for example, was able to establish a logistics and transportation system that rivals the size of the military’s, but also provides Wal-Mart with a competitive advantage in the market place. Military logisticians have studied Wal-Mart and Dell. They have also looked at industry best practices for personnel systems, budgeting, and acquisition. So why haven’t they implemented any of them? It isn’t simply a matter of inertia — although that plays a role. Hamre answers part of that question by asking another rhetorical question, “How do we reform a system when the failings are so hard to define, and where Congress is deeply involved in the problems?

Hamre already asserted, you recall, that the answer doesn’t lie with Congress. As the second article (discussed below) attests, Congress is more often a part of the problem than a part of the solution. Hamre avers:

Congress is an “amplifier,'”not a ‘modulator.” A poorly conceived proposal from the executive branch will get worse on Capitol Hill. A well-designed proposal will improve in the legislative process.

That assertion may be arguable, but it is an interesting point to ponder. It underscores Hamre’s belief that the solution to DoD’s problems will not come from Congress. Insisting that the need to undertake reform is “urgent” — especially if, as he believes, DoD spending has peaked — Hamre insists the solution must come from within the DoD itself. The answer, he says, is not to invest only in more technology (“Computers simply streamline obsolete business practices”). “True productivity,” Hamre insists, “will come only when [the DoD] break[s] free of the current organizational structure and let new business practices and new technology produce new management approaches.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. My vision, Enterprise Resilience Management, provides just such a marriage of business re-engineering and new technology. I’m not saying that it is the tool in the business management kit or that it is the answer to all challenges. It is gratifying, however, to see others coming forward and supporting the idea that a new business paradigm is emerging.

Hamre indicates that a new Federal/Commercial partnership needs to be forged. Senior DoD officials, Hamre says, are not blind to the problems. They understand “that they are standing on a ‘burning platform.'” He concludes:

Failure to act now condemns the department to a future of unbearable tradeoffs. Structural defense reform in the business operations of the department is the only way to avoid this dilemma. It is our job to support them.

That brings me to the second Defense News article (“Buy-American Debate Resumes with 2006 Version” by William Matthews). Congress, whose principal task (in theory) is to work for America, seldom does that in practice. Members of Congress primarily work for their constituents. The old adage is true, “All politics is local.” One reason that the DoD hasn’t streamlined acquistion or budgeting or personnel systems is because Congress pulls most of those strings. Members of Congress are desperate to steer contracts to local firms, despite the cost of such contracts to the American taxpayer.

The Buy-American debate highlights the Congress’ ironic position of being filled with people eager to have the world open up their markets for U.S. products (made in their districts or states) while trying to preserve U.S. markets for American companies. This makes us look hypocritical abroad.

Proponents of Buy American legislation insist they are only concerned about U.S. security. Every major national strategy document, however, asserts that the U.S. cannot remain secure without partners. The National Security Strategy, for example, says:

In an increasingly interconnected world, regional crisis can strain our alliances, rekindle rivalries among the major powers, and create horrifying affronts to human dignity. When violence erupts and states falter, the United States will work with friends and partners to alleviate suffering and restore stability.

The National Defense Strategy says:

International partnerships continue to be a principal source of our strength. Shared principles, a common view of threats and commitment to cooperation provide far greater security than we could achieve on our own.

American has to stop being such a global lone wolf. Our efforts to scare adversaries often as not scare our friends as well. William Shakespeare wrote in Measure for Measure:

O, it is excellent
To have a giant’s strength; but it is tyrannous
To use it like a giant.

The President may have come to this conclusion himself.

In a joint news conference [with Tony Blair], Bush said he had used inappropriate “tough talk” — such as saying “bring ’em on” in reference to insurgents — that he said “sent the wrong signal to people.” [Washington Post, “Bush, Blair Concede Missteps in Iraq,” by Glenn Kessler and Michael A. Fletcher, 26 May 2005]

Now Congress needs to catch that vision so that we can start cooperating internationally to counter challenges that confront us all.

The concluding line of Hamre’s essay about reform in the DoD is, “It is our job to support them,” meaning reformers within the DoD. Congress’ recalcitrance must be overcome if reform is to take place. Members of Congress need to remember that our current unconscionable federal deficits are more of a threat to U.S. security than buying weapons systems from our friends. While DoD reform won’t eliminate deficits, in the long-run a more resilient management system can save taxpayers billions of dollars.