Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Monday, January 29, 2007

On Organizational Change & Government

In his last post, Dr. S mentioned the issue of war budgeting as addressed by the Iraqi study group. I want to open this issue up a bit. Pentagon budgeting is hardly transparent.

But using emergency funding to cover war expenses has had far reaching effects on the DoD budgets. Namely, it makes it very hard to separate war expenditures from basic operations for the daily DoD activities.

For example, let’s take the Center for Lessons Learned, which opened a few years ago as part of the Military’s transformation plan. They are training people to fight wars. And they will do this regardless of whether there is a war or not. But at the same time, they are critical to the war effort now. So how much of an emergency appropriation goes to them for their role in the current war and how do you separate that from the regular budget? How do you track the funds? It isn’t clear.

To track these new funds, the Pentagon has created whole new levels of bureaucratic hell. The levels of bureaucracy have increased 4 fold. Long time DoD employees tell me that they have never seen or experienced anything like it before.

Private contractors are proving to be mixed blessing. The government has always had contractors, but now there are so many and the sums of money are so big that we are back to the days of $500 toilet seats and gold plated hammers. Contractors who are brought in as consultants encounter a lot of polite smiles but little action. Some of these contractors are honest players whose job is to help guide organizational change. The resistance to this type change is serious. Rumsfeld wasn't all wrong when he talked about the "anchor chain" in the military.

But there is some good that is happening as well. Government is trying desperately to update itself, its organizational structure, and its methods of doing things. Government is turning to private industry because it needs to become more like private industry. At the same time, private industry is grabbing the most promising employees from government to help fulfill government contracts by waving huge sums of money in front of them. Those yonger workers who to want to stay in government find themselves increasingly frustrated.

The government sector is facing 3 huge issues 1) an office technology gap 2) an aging workforce that needs to be replaced. 3) a lack of solid leadership to help make needed changes. Notice that money is not the problem. There is more than enough of that. And while we knock the philosophy of the Ayn Rands of the world, she is on to something: the ability to block needed change under the cover of "the greater good".

Due to the burgeoning bureaucracy, government institutions suddenly need electronic document management technologies because funding allocations are getting lost in the approvals process. This means that managers spend more time filling out complicated paperwork and following up as it passes through the various gates rather than leading. Bureaucracy has replaced leadership and is sucking up energy. Great minds are spent tyring to comply with contradicting rules that change daily. Decisions, if htey can be made at all, are being made based on individual ego trips rather than on logic or reason. Middle managers are ignoring chains of command and forming quiet resistance movements simply to get things done.

The whole government salary system is being trashed and replaced with a new, more flexible merit based system, which is a good thing. But older workers aren’t rotating out as they should be and they aren’t keeping up either. They either stay in place, sleeping at their desks and collecting a salary while younger workers who are ready to grasp the reins are being blocked. If older people retire, they sign back up as contractors. So the revolving door that used to belong to Congress has filtered down to mid level functionaries.

So I ask, how can you win a war abroad when you don't even have the capacity to operate effectively and efficiently at home?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This seems to be true. I work at a DoD institution and I have heard military officials say that the Pentagon has no idea of the money it spends or how much it needs. Either do the intelligence services. Many things are done as cash transactions and money is moved around from various accounts all the time. The Pentagon, partly out of necessity, has much more flexibility in this regard than other government agencies.

And then there are small types of graft. One of my colleagues pocketed $120 because her government credit card was over paid. Since the card is in her name and issued by a private bank, she was sent a personal check for the over payment. She didn’t know how to give it back. No one noticed. No one was the wiser.

We were recently told that if we want to go to conferences, we need to apply for funding 45 working days in advance. That is how long it is taking for things to get through the bureaucratic jungle.

This jungle is preventing our Commander from getting his budget allocations signed off. If that doesn't happen, he can't spend the money. If he can't spend it, it goes back to Washington who then gives us less money next year since we couldn't handle what they gave us this year. So organizations who save money or who can't spend it fast enough get punished. Therefore, there is little incentive to reduce spending. So we are in a constant state of economic crisis and while the budgets bloat.

If you want to keep money from year to year, or get increases in funding, in about July, you start looking for places to unload your extra funds. The fiscal year ends in October and all spending is frozen in Sept. We were once told to spend $2 mil on a software package that we didn't need. They just needed to spend the $2 mil to dump the funds. In the end, the money wasn't spent. It was sent back, much to the chagrin of the former commander.

Office supplies are limited and high-ranking officials are micromanaging the budget. You have to get a Colonel's signature to order toilet paper! In fact, micromanagement is going on all over. I am certain they are trying to carefully monitor some of the money that is considered an emergency appropriation. Yet at the same time, they are buying blackberries and I-pods for everyone to use as storage devices. (I haven't gotten either. Must not be important enough.) You have to show you are doing something with all that money, right? So the quickest way to do that is to buy technology. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are smiling all the way to the bank.

So this is where all the money is going that is supposed to be flowing into our organization. It isn't paying salaries for our military or civilian employees or going to Iraq. And the irony? It is all us simple functionaries without the Blackberries that are made to go to ethics training.