DOD strives for consumer-like efficiency

Improvements will not come through new technology, but from evaluating and improving business processes, DOD official says

Business systems run by the Defense Department should work just as well and as fast as what the public is used to at their local store, according to Elizabeth McGrath, assistant deputy chief management officer and performance improvement officer at the DOD.

Despite the massive size and complexity of DOD, leaders there are committed to improving the organization’s business processes, such as managing payroll, McGrath said today at an AFCEA Northern Virginia chapter event.

The improvements will not come through acquiring new technology, but rather from evaluating and improving business processes, she added.

“We all swipe our credit cards, right?” McGrath said. “Not only that, but you go to the line with no cashiers; the line that is self-service. Our generation is getting to like self-serve and the generation behind us will demand it.”

The same expectations consumers have is possible to achieve within the government, she said. For example, security clearances should not take longer than a year to complete, McGrath said. One of the major factors that makes the process slow today is it involves multiple agencies, she said.

“But in order for it to work efficiently and effectively, all of us have to come together,” McGrath said. “And we have to look at what our strategy is. We have to look at the process by which we execute this, and the policies in place that enable or guide us in this endeavor.”

Taking that holistic view often doesn’t happen because it is difficult, she said. For example, until recently, the federal investigative standards for security clearances had not been revised since the days of J. Edgar Hoover, she said. The lack of revisions was not because the policies were so good, she said. Change didn’t happen because it required people to challenge the status quo and figure out how to fix it.

One mistake DOD officials must be careful to avoid is trying to fix problems by purchasing technology, McGrath said.

We have lots of experience buying technology and the results are mixed,” she said. “To be completely honest the results aren’t very positive, especially with large scale implementations of information technology. If you don’t do this business process reengineering, if you don’t challenge the policies in place, it doesn’t matter what you buy.” 

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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