DOD's England cautions against haste in reforms

Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England told Congress today he is moving with caution in advancing management reforms at the Pentagon, and is unwilling to make drastic changes to the large organization when the outcome of those steps is unpredictable.

“It is very easy to destroy value, but it is hard to create value,” England told members of the House Armed Services Committee. Some in the defense community have argued that the Defense Department should move more quickly to implement far-reaching management, acquisition and governance reforms.

England told lawmakers he is not “anxious” to bring about change, but is seeking ways to make DOD more “adaptable” and “flexible” when tackling future threats.

His overall objective, England said, is to create a decentralized organization, where officials at lower echelons are empowered to make their own decisions.

England issued a memo to senior Defense officials in March, laying out a way ahead for a multitude of reform efforts. The document presents 19 tasks for overhauling the decision-making and governance process at the highest levels of DOD. Those tasks were compiled earlier this year by the Deputy’s Advisory Working Group, which England chairs.

Attempts to make management and governance reforms at the Pentagon go back for decades. The changes now underway are the result of the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review and the Bush administration’s experience with counterterrorism operations after the 2001 terrorist attacks, according to sources.

Meanwhile, some question whether England’s strategy will be successful. “Rather than impose a systemic solution, they are inching their way forward incrementally toward strategic management of the department,” said Christopher Lamb, a former DOD official who is now a researcher at the National Defense University.

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

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