Lead, follow or get out

Reform advocates should give major kudos to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He is directing an overhaul of many of the antiquated and cumbersome processes that have plagued the Defense Department for decades.

His targets include the current financial management processes; the recently "reformed" acquisition process; logistics, command and control; and the processes for collecting and disseminating defense intelligence. Succeeding in these reforms will be a challenge.

Winston Churchill once defined an optimist as one who sees opportunity in every difficulty and a pessimist as one who sees difficulty in every opportunity. Make no mistake: Rumsfeld is an optimist leading an organization of 90 percent pessimists. Success, therefore, will be predicated on his ability to convert, motivate or isolate the naysayers.

Those who support Rumsfeld's vision should be given positions of trust. Those who do not should be assigned menial tasks. Unlike the private sector, government can't fire those who don't support their leaders, which may upset the government watchdog groups. However, any experienced federal manager knows it is necessary to get the deadwood out of the way to get on with meaningful reform.

Despite the deadwood, this effort has a good chance of success as long as Rumsfeld does five things:

* He must formulate bold reforms outside the con.text of existing processes. (Specifically, he must ignore the way DOD currently does business. That's the broken process we're trying to replace.)

* He must surround himself with loyal people who will think beyond the current ways of doing business and, even more important, tell him when things are not going well. ("Groupthink" was a core competency when I was at DOD.)

* He must ignore the criticisms of those who are not part of the process. (That is not to say that he should not "pretend" to listen.)

* He must empower his reform leaders to direct the efforts without asking permission or seeking endless compromise and consensus. (Each time a leader is required to ask permission, the chances of failure rise exponentially.)

* He must provide adequate resources for the reform efforts and allow leaders to redirect resources without having to go through overly bureaucratic processes. (Without the ability to command resources, nobody — including the leaders — will take the effort seriously.)

These five actions, coupled with Rumsfeld's vision and goals, should improve his chances for success where others have failed. And despite criticisms that the reforms have been moving too slowly or were created without input from the current process and program owners, I say, "Hang tough, Mr. Secretary." Continue to use your small group of trusted advisers to drive the change from the top, and keep up the good work. We all stand to benefit in the long run.

Brubaker is president of e-government solutions at Commerce One Inc., a former deputy chief information officer at the Defense Department and an architect of the Clinger-Cohen Act.


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