Thursday, April 19, 2012

Disrupting the Bureaucracy: Aim High!

Robert Kozloski is back with another idea for shaking up the DoD.  Since the author works for the Department of the Navy, this piece may appear as mere Service Parochialism.  However, the author has equally disruptive pieces pending publication on Navy/Marine Corps issues in the United States Naval Institute's Proceedings and in the Naval War College Review

Disruptive Thinkers aims to be a proving ground and central forum for innovative military thought (off the wall is okay...).  This can be on anything from Grand Strategy to tactical solutions to solving minor military irritants.  If you have a suggestion for improvement within the Department of Defense, we will be happy to post it.
This past week the Center For Strategic and International Studies released its 2012 Global Forecast. Specifically, the report addressed the military’s global force posture under the threat of sequestration. Of the two dozen national security experts that CSIS polled, not one disagreed that the Defense budget could be cut further while maintaining essential military capabilities. Despite statements by current DOD leadership to the contrary, this is unquestionably true. However, bounding the tradespace is essential to understand the problem – given flat or declining defense dollars, DoD accepts excessive overhead and inefficiency at the peril of operational capabilities.

In a recent Washington Post article, veteran defense correspondent Walter Pincus argued that forthcoming budget reduction efforts should target the highest levels of  Department of Defense bureaucracy.  I could not agree with him more.  Reductions in operational military capabilities should only be considered after all efforts to reduce unnecessary overhead have been exhausted. We are far from reaching that point.

Preserving as much military operational capacity as possible, while not contributing excessively to the national debt, will require bold ideas from civilian and military leaders in the DoD and in Congress. We must move beyond trimming the fat from the current structure to setting our sights high and eliminate overhead. However, the level of bold concepts DoD must consider are beyond its control, and cooperation between the Hill and Pentagon is imperative.

One such bold idea that warrants serious consideration is to reverse the portion of the National Defense Act of 1947 that created the US Air Force as a separate military department.  This action was appropriate at the time in order to create the US Air Force as a distinct Service that was no longer part of the US Army. However, reversing this legislation today would reduce overhead as well as create two similar military departments – both executing Title X authority over two independent Services.

There Goes Lockheed's Funding...
Some outsiders may view the Department of the Navy (DoN), with its two independent Services, as one happy family.  Let me assure you there is no shortage of tension (sometimes healthy) between the naval Services, with contentious issues being arbitrated at the DoN Secretariat level. This results in a single naval position on issues rising to the SECDEF level. This relationship also enables integration across the Services. For example, the Director of Expeditionary Programs on the OPNAV Staff is normally a Marine Major General.

Not only could savings be achieved at the Department level, this merger would provide additional opportunities for integration. For example, the Naval Air Systems Command manages fixed wing, rotary wing, unmanned aviation programs, aviation weapons and avionics, as well as standardizes tactics and airfield operations, for both naval Services. A similar organization model could be adopted for the Army and Air Force aviation programs.

Many defense experts warn against over-integration because a single point of view and group think reduces the healthy competition of ideas that normally spurs innovation and provides a variety of options to deal with uncertainty.  Having organizations working on similar issues in the Army and Navy Departments would still allow for this intellectual competition.

Recently, General Ron Fogelman, former Chief of Staff of the US Air Force, argued the best solution for an affordable national defense force is to return to our historical militia roots. Similarly, defense expert Dr. Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institute recommended decreasing the current size of ground forces and increasing the size of the National Guard during his Senate testimony. These concepts would align well to the two Military Department model.

The Department of the Army, with its close association with the National Guard Bureau, comprised of Air Force and Army Guardsman, would focus on major contingency operations and homeland defense missions, while the Department of the Navy would be the Department aligned to the full range of expeditionary capabilities and forward presence missions.

It is difficult to accurately capture the cost savings that would occur from this proposal, but as a general rule of thumb, eliminating 1,000 positions saves $1B.  There would certainly be an up-front investment required for the transition.  Previous large-scale mergers within the DoD have not realized the anticipated savings.  This is largely because no control limits were put in place for the size of the merging staffs. As witnessed with the Joint Basing initiative, full staffs merged with little reduction in personnel or functions.

In order to achieve savings, a 10 to 20 percent growth limit for the expanded role of Department of the Army must be put in place. Many are concerned that drastic cuts in the federal work force would only exacerbate the national unemployment problem. However, if this merger were done in a phased approach over 3-5 years and personnel reductions were achieved through normal attrition, the effect could be minimized.

Not only does restructuring the Department of the Air Force make fiscal sense, it may improve military operations as well. As a 2007 RAND study highlighted, despite 25 years of joint reform brought on by Goldwater-Nichols, the Army and Air Force still had difficulty integrating operational capabilities during recent combat operations.  This new organizational model could serve as a catalyst for true air-ground integration.

Some may be concerned that this new Military Department alignment would create a bipolarity within the operational forces.  However, each Service Chief would still be part of the Joint Staff and therefore have equal representation in operational issues. Joint operations will remain unaffected by this realignment.

While creating a separate Department of the Air Force may have been appropriate in 1947, it is difficult to justify its existence today given the current fiscal crisis facing the nation and the much smaller size of the total force. Ideas that appear to be too difficult to implement are frequently dismissed.  Easier solutions, such as eliminating troops or enforcing double-sided printing, are often the ones considered for implementation.  Our national leaders must accept the challenge and take on the hard problems to preserve our military power and develop fiscally responsible national security solutions.


  1. This sounds interesting, but I believe you will encounter an even bigger problem than reducing redundancy and replacing external with internal competition. Namely, the USAF and USARMY have dramatically different cultures. While some of the differences could be preserved at the lowest levels, the very expectations, rituals, values, and goals are dramatically different and in some ways opposed to one another.

    For example:

    Both services have a very strong evangelical community, but while the Army has been seeing large changes in the Chaplain corps and a few other areas, the UASF has integrated many of these values into the overarching structure and this impacts all levels of the organization.

    There are many artifacts from the British system from which much of our understanding of Enlisted/Officer relationships are derived. This is much more pronounced within the USAF than in the Army, and both have dramatically different ways of approaching these norms.

    Education and the amount of time, energy, and resources dedicated to having an educated, well-rounded force capable of intellectual discourse is not standard between the two departments. GI Bill notwithstanding, the Army has (as a general rule) relied heavily on advancement education, war colleges, and role-specific education while the USAF, generally, has allowed for a much broader list of topics including Liberal Arts and other subjects (This is a sweeping generalization, but I think you get my point).
    Even the narratives of the two cultures are completely different and in many ways at odds. In the public’s view, and therefore in their treatment of servicemen, these two groups perform very different roles. On the Army side, imagine the meaning behind Platoon, The Green Zone, Apocalypse Now, and M*A*S*H* and then compare that to the narratives of Top Gun, Iron Eagle, Broken Arrow, and The Tuskegee Airmen.
    65 years is a long time for two cultures to be apart. When you add in the complications of the draft, short stints, career/stint culture, technology, and fluctuations in funding, size, and intent, to recombine these elements would be a long and arduous process, and you have a great chance of exacerbating known issues and creating brand new ones.
    It is important to see these groups as cultures with different worldviews, and from what little research has been done on these cultures, it is clear there would be some very serious culture clash as jobs are lost, power vacuums and struggles occur, and everyone at all levels struggles to establish meaning and identity under what would be perceived as very austere conditions.

    Benjamin Wintersteen
    Contractor - Social Scientist
    White Sands, NM

  2. Benjamin,

    You raise some excellent points regarding Service culture. I’m sure similar concerns were raised prior to the ’47, ’49, ’53, ’58 and ’86 reform movements. Each of these legislative changes strengthened either the OSD or the CJCS and many feared these organizations would remove the individuality of the Services. The differences in the 4 Service cultures that you describe today survived those radical reform movements.

    It is difficult to access the “trickle down” effect this proposal would have on the culture of both services. However based on observations of Goldwater-Nichols, intended to create a single Joint culture, the impact to the operational forces would be minimal.

    Specifically, the differences you describe between the Army and the Air Force exist today between the Navy and Marine Corps. The two naval Services have different uniforms, different promotion systems, different physical standards, different values, different leadership styles, etc... I served for 12 years in the navy, 10 in the Marine Corps and have been on the Secretariat staff for 3 years and with the exception of the tail hook scandal, I have never seen actions at the Secretariat level have any effect on the cultures of the two independent Services. Further, many sub-cultures are alive and well in the DON. Naval aviation, Sea Bees, Naval Special Warfare, Marine Corps, and EOD all have a very strong sense of culture and individuality even though they are part of a larger civilian led department.

    Recognizing and respecting the differences in culture during a merger would be an important consideration for it to work.

  3. Truth in advertising up front, I'm a career Airman. To keep this on non-parochial grounds I'll forego the opportunity to extol the virtues of the Air Force or to counter-punch (e.g., Why not eliminate the Navy's Army instead?).

    I can respect a provocative argument and I applaud you for presenting such a radical proposal. However, I'm puzzled. Doesn't the "thinking" part of disruptive thinking demand a stronger linkage between the solution and the problem?

    The fundamental problem you've identified is excessive overhead, the bureaucratic bloat characterized by the growth of staffs over the years in terms of exercised authority and, particularly, the number of people employed. I agree. I've served on five different staffs, and I've never been on a staff that wasn't at least 1/3 too big for the required tasks. This bloat not only costs money, it also serves to stifle innovation by increasing vested interest in the status quo (turf protecting behavior). But I find it hard to believe this problem originated with the creation of the Air Force. Nor do I find it credible that eliminating the Department of the Air Force will do anything to mitigate bureaucratic bloat in the staffs that would remain under your proposal.

    Why not require all Departments, plus OSD and OCJCS, to trim their numbers by 33%? My guess is you could specify any arbitrary target for staff reduction between 30-40% without affecting operations in the field. Or for a more radical solution, why not eliminate all three Departments, and organize the Services under the SecDef (or Chairman)? If putting the Army and Air Force in a single Department would promote jointness, why stop there? Wouldn't it promote even more jointness to organize all the Services under a single authority? I'm not sure I'd buy into it, but it would certainly be more intellectually aligned with the underlying problem than what you've proposed.

    Michael-Bob Starr, Lt Col, USAF

  4. Lt Col Starr,

    I don’t disagree with what you are saying, however the “salami slicing” approach has been tried many times – trim 5% here – 10% there… etc. There are several problems with that approach.

    1. Staffs grow back in time. In the mid-1990s, Congress mandated exactly what you said and it worked…for a few years and the staff sizes exploded post Sept-11.

    2. Normally the individuals empowered to make HQ reductions are those in the top echelon. The bill to cut HQ is passed along to lower levels and the top echelon remains status quo.

    3. Historically when these large cuts in HQ billets have occurred, the work is simply outsourced to contractor support personnel. The civilian and military personnel that are in the current position show up as consultants.

    We need to move past the salami slicing and start eliminating organizations, mission, or functions. And as an operational guy, I would assume you would rather see a HQ unit cut, than the current approach of eliminating operational units.

    Eliminating the 2 MILDEPS is what Truman fought for in 1947 and failed. There is merit to that proposal as well. Please see my JFQ letter…

    The essay forthcoming in the NWC Review is a much more detailed follow-on to that piece.

  5. I agree salami slicing is a poor way to reduce budgets. Are we talking about a budget cutting exercise? I thought you were addressing the dysfunctional growth of HQ staffs. I agree with you that eliminating organizations, missions or functions would be the best way to absorb additional defense cuts, but I didn't think we were talking about the best way to cut the defense budget. Please state the underlying problem as precisely as you can.

    Also, I'd appreciate the details of what Congress mandated in the mid-1990s. I was in the Pentagon from 1994-1996, and though I remember an administration initiative to cut bureaucratic overhead (the "Reinventing Government" reforms led by Vice President Gore), I'm not familiar with Congressional action to do the same. Can you please point me to the legislation in question?

    Enjoying the dialogue,

    Michael Bob Starr, Lt Col, USAF

    1. Couldn’t find the chart I was looking for but the excerpt from a GAO report summarizes some of the efforts during the late 1990s to cut the numbers of DOD staffs:

      Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Defense's (DOD) efforts to reduce the size and cost of its headquarters activities, focusing on DOD's: (1) efforts to reduce headquarters positions and associated costs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and Washington Headquarters Services, as required by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997; (2) efforts to reduce headquarters positions across DOD as required by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1998; and (3) reporting of personnel on temporary assignment to OSD from other DOD components.
      GAO noted that: (1) to comply with the requirement in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997, DOD plans to reduce OSD and its support activities by about 1,373 positions, or 27 percent, from its fiscal year (FY) 1994 levels by the end of FY 1999; (2) as of the end of FY 1998, DOD had cut 1,123 positions; (3) the majority of the cuts were based on DOD's November 1997 Defense Reform Initiatives report, which recommended that some offices be reorganized and that operational and program management functions be transferred to other DOD activities; (4) although the positions in OSD and its support activities have been reduced, civilian salary costs have not decreased because many of the positions eliminated were vacant and annual civilian pay raises have exceeded the inflation rate; (5) DOD plans to eliminate the remaining 250 positions in FY 1999; (6) DOD may not be accurately accounting for all personnel assigned to OSD; (7) some personnel temporarily assigned to OSD by other DOD components are functioning more as permanent staff and are not being reported as OSD personnel; (8) DOD has plans to cut about 5,600 positions across its headquarters activities by the end of FY 2002; (9) this is less than half of 13,300 cuts required by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1998; (10) according to OSD officials, DOD did not develop plans consistent with the legislation because the Secretary of Defense had sought relief from the 1998 legislative requirement; and (11) however, when Congress did not repeal the provision, the services proposed that a task force be established to develop alternatives for reducing the headquarters' structure.

  6. Problem: How to preserve operational capacity (military power) in an era of declining/reduced Defense spending.

    Regardless of who wins the presidential election, the top-line of the defense budget will most likely remain flat or decline over the next decade. Given the gravity of our national debt – Defense spending must be included in inevitable austerity measures. I contend that the DOD could achieve a large portion of the cuts posed by sequestration by attacking the bureaucracy rather than the operational forces.

    To illustrate my concerns regarding our current approach, from 2001 to 2010 (see Defense Business Board Study on Overhead) OSD/COCOMs/Defense Agencies added 50,000 personnel. Faced with declining budget, the Marine Corps is forced to cut ~20,000 active duty personnel -clearly a loss of operational military capacity by preserving overhead of questionable value. This same issue is facing all Services.

    Gen Fogleman, had a great quote on a recent interview. (I paraphrase)Given the problems facing the nation, the status quo thinkers, the “do nothing” crowd at the Pentagon, pose a threat to national security.

    To be very honest, the chance of this change occurring is zero. However, I think it is worthwhile for the “disruptive thinkers” to pose some radical ideas on the far right of thought continuum. On the left are the do-nothings and some where in the middle, hopefully, lies a sweet-spot of actionable initiatives that may get serious attention. We will never get to that sweet-spot without developing ideas on both ends of the continuum – and that’s where I see great value in forums like this.

    I’ll have to get back to you on the congressional action – I need to review some notes to find a very telling chart.