DOD reforms target bureaucracy

Governance changes could determine how Pentagon decisions are made in the future

Two years before the end of the Bush administration, senior Pentagon leaders want to initiate reforms that they say could have significant implications for the way the Defense Department buys weapon systems and fights wars.

Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England issued a governance reform memo to senior Defense officials in March, which outlined an ambitious course for overhauling a bureaucracy that critics say has trouble tackling today’s national security problems. Chief among those are the emergence of violent extremism worldwide and the rebuilding of war-torn countries.

The memo presents 19 tasks for overhauling the decision-making process at the highest levels of DOD. Those tasks, which include creating a mechanism for measuring the quality of decision-making, were compiled earlier this year by the Deputy’s Advisory Working Group, which England chairs.

England’s reform agenda, according to the memo and Pentagon sources, will help shape the Pentagon’s six-year spending plan for fiscal 2010 to 2015 and update the Pentagon’s classified Strategic Planning Guidance, which underpins much of the military’s planning for future crises.

Attempts to usher in governance reforms at the Pentagon go back decades. The changes under way now are the result of the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review and the Bush administration’s experience with counterterrorism operations after the 2001 terrorist attacks. “We’ve learned a lot,” said one Defense official familiar with the reforms. “Now, we’d like to take what we’ve learned and actually institutionalize some of it.

“It might not be the intensely massive rework of the department that people are expecting,” the Defense official added. Its purpose is to make the transition to the next administration, whether it is Republican or Democratic, a bit easier, the source said.

Officials are aware, however, that the next administration could opt to reverse any Pentagon governance reforms in the works.

“It could stick, it could not stick,” the Defense source said. “A lot of it depends on will.”

England’s memo asks Ryan Henry, principal deputy undersecretary of Defense, to frame the Pentagon’s high-level priorities for fiscal 2010 and beyond by defining a set of significant issues that could dramatically shift current priorities.

Henry is expected to take issues, which are reportedly similar to the recommendations from the 2005 QDR, to the Deputy’s Advisory Working Group as early as this month and present a way of incorporating them into the Pentagon’s future budget request.

Defense observers say governance issues need attention. 

“It’s important for the department to have a structure by which they can [ask], ‘Which are the most important issues we need to address, and what are the decision lanes to address them?’ ” said Clark Murdock, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But, he added, “the proof will be in the pudding. Will they be able to synthesize and distill the process so that strategic choices will actually be identified?”

Christopher Lamb, a former DOD official and now a researcher at the National Defense University, said he questions whether the reform efforts outlined in England’s memo will be successful.

“All these things make sense in the abstract,” Lamb said. “The big problem is the implementation of these ideas. Rather than impose a systemic solution, they are inching their way forward incrementally toward strategic management of the department.”

However, he added, time may be running out because those pushing for change could lose power internally as the Bush administration nears the end of its term in office.

And, England will soon have to manage without one of the central overseers of Defense reforms. Kenneth Krieg, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, announced his resignation earlier this month.
England’s reform planDeputy Defense Secretary Gordon England has put in motion a set of reforms at the Pentagon aimed at streamlining high-level decision-making and management processes.

His governance plan includes:
  • Strengthening joint capability portfolio management across the Pentagon in areas such as logistics and command and control.
  • Finding a balance between managing long-term investments and retaining flexibility in military operations.
  • Establishing performance assessment mechanisms at all levels of the department.
— Sebastian Sprenger

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