Avoiding Death of Pentagon Management Reforms

COMMENTARY Defense

Avoiding Death of Pentagon Management Reforms

Jul 31st, 2020 2 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Frederico Bartels

Senior Policy Analyst, Defense Budgeting

Frederico Bartels is a senior policy analyst for defense budgeting at The Heritage Foundation's Davis Institute.
Congress has been very active recently in reforming how the Defense Department operates. I Niall Carson - PA Images / Contributor / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

Some lawmakers want to terminate the position of Chief Management Officer (CMO) at the Pentagon based on the perception that the office has not succeeded.

No individual or organization would be able to accomplish such an enormous task within only 30 months.

Congress needs to give the Pentagon enough time to process and adapt to its reforms before reverting or further changing its reform efforts.

Time is relative.

Two and half years is plenty of time to get a master’s in business administration if you’re going to school full time. But it is probably not enough time to pay back your student loans.

And 30 months is definitely not enough time to finish something truly big: like reforming the way an organization with more than 2 million employees, a $700 billion budget, and a 535-person board of directors performs its business functions. Especially if that organization is the Department of Defense.

Nevertheless, some lawmakers want to terminate the position of Chief Management Officer (CMO) at the Pentagon based on the perception that the office—after only 2 1/2 years of operation—has not succeeded in completely fixing the military’s complex and often wasteful business practices.

But is success in such a short time really a realistic expectation? Especially considering that there has already been turnover and that the current CMO spent a full-year relegated to “acting” status while awaiting Senate confirmation.

The CMO was created as the third-ranking officer at the Department of Defense with the intention of having a single position focused on business transformation and reform. The high rank of the office reflects the importance placed on reforming the Pentagon. After all, it is the third of three pillars of the 2018 National Defense Strategy: “Reform the Department for Greater Performance and Affordability.”

The law describes the chief management officer as responsible for “establishing policies on, and supervising, all business operations of the Department, including business transformation, business planning and processes, performance management, and business information technology management and improvement activities and programs, including the allocation of resources for business operations, and unifying business management efforts across the Department.”

No individual or organization would be able to accomplish such an enormous task within only 30 months.

Congress’ push for the termination of the position is primarily a response to a recommendation made by the Defense Business Board (an advisory board for the Pentagon) which found that “the OCMO has not taken advantage of its inherent authorities or organizational position.” That is not wrong, but the major reason the office has not yet found its footing is that it is still being established within the vast Pentagon bureaucracy. It takes time for a new office to establish the boundaries of its authorities and determine how it can best accomplish its mission.

Further, in an institution the size of the Department of Defense, not one single office can be responsible for reforming how it does its business in every single function that takes place in the department. This type of work requires detailed, local knowledge specific to each of the organizations inside the department.

The importance of the role resides in having a consistent and persistent advocate for reforming business operations and pushing the department toward more efficient and effective practices. That is why the position is fairly high within the Pentagon’s hierarchy—it demonstrates the importance of the issue. And the chief management officer and his staff needs to model and amplify good behavior, championing the business transformations taking place within the department and establishing the incentives and the culture that enables better practices.

Congress has been very active recently in reforming how the Defense Department operates. It is a laudable effort that should continue. However, Congress needs to give the Pentagon enough time to process and adapt to its reforms before reverting or further changing its reform efforts.

Even the best reform effort will fail if it is not allowed enough time or authority to implement the changes desired. Congress should give the CMO that time, now that it has the authority.

This piece originally appeared in The Washington Times