'The most unpopular person in the Pentagon'

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Peter Levine, the former Senate Armed Services Committee general counsel and staff director who has been tapped for the deputy chief management officer post, faced off against his former bosses in a confirmation hearing April 21 and explained why he wants to be "the most unpopular person in the Pentagon."

Levine’s resume recommends him for the job. He helped draft the 2008 legislation that created the post, which is designed to serve as an advocate for more efficient management and streamlined business processes in the Pentagon and across the armed forces. As a senior Senate staffer with 18 years of experience, he has developed relationships across the Department of Defense offices that interface with the DCMO.

The DCMO post was created in 2008 by legislation drafted by the Senate Armed Services Committee to create a high-level focus on streamlining management and improving and standardizing business functions such as accounting, personnel and human resources. The DCMO is central to the Defense Department's goal of producing a clean financial audit by fiscal 2017. In his answers to questions from senators, Levine said he didn't think the Pentagon was going to hit that goal.

"An individual taxpayer or a small business may be able to put their receipts in a shoebox and add them up at the end of the year and balance their books. An entity the size of the Department of Defense simply can't do that. We have to have systems and processes in place that work and that produce good financial information," Levine said, noting that he intended to keep up pressure for a clean financial audit even if the 2017 goal is not met.

Levine also said he would work to make sure that IT program management failures, like the Air Force's $1 billion Expeditionary Combat Support System boondoggle, were not repeated. And he pledged to help DOD adapt its practices to utilize commercial off-the-shelf software, where appropriate.

"Particularly in the area of business systems, all of the initiative is now on the private sector side," Levine said. "What we need to do is change our business processes so that they make sense and that they can be appropriately automated, rather than automating an old process that isn't very efficient in the first place."

Barring unforeseen circumstances, a quick confirmation for Levine seems likely. He'll have about 18 months to make his mark in the post before a new administration takes office.

Levine said in his answers to written questions that he hoped to hone in on five or six top priorities, all related to streamlining management and business processes. In his testimony, Levine said he hoped to take away some of the clutter in the acquisitions process to make life easier for program managers. He noted that the acquisitions decision process can drag on for two years and require approvals from 200 officials. Program managers are "spending all their time briefing people and changing slides to get approval, rather than working on the substance of the program," Levine said.

Levine also said that Beth McGrath, the previous DCMO and the only person so far to have been Senate-confirmed for the post, lacked the support needed from top levels at the Pentagon to take on some of the pressing management challenges.

Levine told the committee that he has received assurances from Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work that he will have leadership backing to do a job that is designed to be disruptive.

"What the DCMO has to do is go into basically other people's rice bowls and tell them they're not doing it right, and they need to do it differently. That's never going to be something that's popular in any organization, and certainly not an organization like the Pentagon," Levine said.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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