DOD relents and names a CMO

Many agree that a chief management officer is needed but some question the particulars

DOD outlines the CMO’s duties

In a Sept. 18 directive, Defense Secretary Robert Gates designated his deputy, Gordon England, to be the Defense Department’s chief management officer.

England’s duties include:

  • Ensuring DOD’s ability to carry out its strategic plan in support of national security objectives.
  • Ensuring DOD’s core business missions are optimally aligned to support its warfighting mission.
  • Establishing performance goals and measures for improving and evaluating DOD’s overall economy, efficiency and effectiveness, and monitoring and measuring the department’s progress.
  • Developing and maintaining a departmentwide strategic plan for business reform.

— Sebastian Sprenger

The Defense Department has long opposed naming a chief management officer, saying it would add another layer of bureaucracy to its already convoluted decision-making process. But last week, DOD reversed course and named Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England as its first chief management officer.

In a memo detailing England’s new duties, Defense Secretary Robert Gates included England’s name, which suggests Gates intends the designation to apply to England personally rather than the deputy secretary post per se.

Gates’ decision drew mixed reactions from lawmakers and Comptroller General David Walker.

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) said he was pleased with the decision. “Management challenges have plagued the department for years, and the establishment of a chief management officer is a necessary step to address them,” he said.

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) also praised DOD’s decision. “I’m hopeful this will help bring more efficiency and oversight to the day-to-day business operations at the Pentagon,” he said.

Akaka and Ensign are the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Armed Services Committee’s Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee. Earlier this year, both lawmakers called for DOD to have a CMO position. They said they would introduce legislation if necessary that would require DOD to create one.

Although some were pleased with the decision, the manner in which DOD finally named a CMO did not sit well with Walker, the top official at the Government Accountability Office. Walker said Gates’ decision only puts into writing England’s current responsibilities, adding that it likely would bring few improvements. “Issuing a memo is more form than substance,” Walker told Federal Computer Week.
GAO has recommended since at least 2003 that DOD establish a CMO as a separate position in the defense leadership. Lawmakers and the Defense Business Board joined GAO in calling for DOD to establish that position.

England’s spokesman Navy Capt. Kevin Wensing did not return calls for comment by press time on why DOD made the decision to name a CMO.

Walker said DOD’s approach fails to address the need for a CMO dedicated to business transformation and instead focuses on managing daily operations at the behemoth agency. Having one person carrying out the duties of operations chief and change manager could work in smaller agencies, but DOD’s complex transformation agenda requires a separate official overseeing those efforts, he said.

Walker added that DOD’s long-standing argument about adding another layer of bureaucracy is “bogus.” There is a “fundamental need to have continuity between and within administrations,” which can be achieved only by appointing a dedicated CMO, he said.

Both houses of Congress included language in their versions of the fiscal 2008 Defense Authorization bills that would require DOD to name a CMO. The House version of the bill would give DOD broad leeway in implementing management reforms. The Senate version calls for the designation of a senior official other than the deputy secretary to oversee high-risk management problems on a daily basis.

Those high-risk issues include the modernization of business systems, financial management, security clearances, supply-chain management and weapons systems buying.

A former senior DOD official who requested anonymity said England’s designation as CMO is “a step in the right direction.” But he added that continuity is a problem at DOD. “Who will drive transformation after this administration?” the source asked.

The source said England now will have to deal with some practical issues involving his new job. “What kind of staff will he need to fulfill the duties of CMO?” the official asked.

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