Premade Decisions: Why Bother?

I have written about the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship kerfuffle before.  The recent “non-decision” by outgoing SECDEF Hagel concerning the fate of the LCS fleet has prompted me to write again on the subject.  For those you you who haven’t followed this “crisis of our own making,” my previous musing, Rethinking LCS, provides some background which I will not repeat here. But I know it’s a hassle to click on the link, so here’s the Cliff Notes version:

  • LCS concept was for affordable, brown water vessel with modular capabilities to fulfill the presence mission in key locations around the globe.
  • LCS modular concept meant that not all missions could be done at once, keeping costs lower and enhancing adaptability for new missions.
  • LCS was not designed as a front-line warship, bristling with armament, but was configured to protect itself in most likely operating areas.
  • Navy bought two designs, hoping to down-select, but alas, since the only decisions that are generally (or admirably, if you prefer in this case) made in the Pentagon are pre-decided, the decision was made to not decide and buy both forever.
  • Elements in DoD leadership decided LCS didn’t have enough firepower and was vulnerable and directed the Navy to explore alternatives.
  • Navy commissioned a big study to scratch the OSD itch.
  • All breathlessly awaited the Uber-SECRET study results, knowing the Unter-SECRET answer: Navy can’t afford anything else…….(shhhhhhhh don’t tell anyone!!!!!!)

Screen-Shot-2014-12-11-at-4.08.53-PMScreen-Shot-2014-12-11-at-4.09.39-PM

I found these slides in an article by the US Naval Institute and they are attributed to the US Navy, however I couldn’t find them on the Navy website.

So that brings us to the big pre-made decision by SECDEF, after consulting, conferring and otherwise hobnobbing with the Pentagon cognoscenti.  (Who are the cognoscenti you ask?  Read SECDEF’s statement and find out.)   And the decision was:

Drum Roll Please

……stay with two LCS designs, bump them up a bit (maybe $53 or $61 Mil or so) and move on.  I think the only one surprised by the answer may have been SECDEF himself!  Otherwise, why bother?  I shudder to think about the amount of money and time spent on this study which had only one answer.  I haven’t seen the actual study, but from what I’ve read about it, no stone was left unturned (apparently 192 stones to be exact).  Option after option considered, analyzed, pondered, etc……..by those who already knew there was only one answer……we can’t afford anything else, nor can we afford the time required to start the acquisition process all over again.  The answer was pre-decided. My guess is most of the changes announced would have been made anyway.

These pre-decided decisions are common in the Pentagon, but all too often staffs are forced to do the kabuki dancekabukidance to give an air of legitimacy to them.  Those in disagreement get to say their peace and then dismissed as “having an input”, even though no one was really listening. I recall this vividly while working on budget end-game around the 2006 timeframe.  The Service programmers (three star resource folks) would be herded down to OSD about an hour before SECDEF was to receive a decision briefing on an issue, shown the slides prepared for him and then dismissed.  I barely had enough time to run back to the Vice Chief to brief him on what I had seen, let alone provide him with any analysis of what OSD had pre-decided.  Of course, if the Vice Chief were to raise an objection during the SECDEF briefing, the OSD Poobahs would announce,” Your folks have seen this and nothing was said.”

The point of this little tirade is that we waste money on these types of exercises all the time.  I think about all the good we could have done for our wounded warriors with the money we wasted on this study.  I think about all the time consumed by some very smart people who could have been working on something really important…how to deal with sequestration, how to keep the technological edge, how to fix our broken nuclear infrastructure…and any number of other problems.

Why does the Pentagon continue to do this?  I suggest it’s because they have an endless supply of people and money.  No one pays for people, they just have them.  No one has to justify the cost of doing such a study because cost is not an issue.  If I had done that in my civilian P&L life, I would have been shown the door.  I had to spend my money and time on things that mattered and contributed to the bottom line. Since there’s no bottom line at DoD, everything tends to become equally important.  Once on the Joint Staff I remember a staff briefing one day when the two topics discussed were the reduction of the nuclear arsenal by 50% and the Joint Staff savings bond campaign.  We spent the same amount of time on each…in the end it was decided we should brief the Deputy Director daily on the savings bond campaign and as needed for the nuclear issue.

I think we need a study on studies.

   Send article as PDF   

2 Replies to “Premade Decisions: Why Bother?”

  1. Actually Lou, this scenario sounds all too familiar, given the venues I have experienced in Federal and now State government service. It seems that when the “bottom-line” becomes too distant from the primary and essential organizational objectives, processes morph into abstract, disassociated and inappropriate priorities. This has been a chronic source of frustration throughout my 40 years of public service and has prompted the “why do I stay” question all-too-often. Yet staying has enabled me (and other like-kinds) to engage in the(unfortunately) all too rare opportunities to serve in very meaningful ways that only public service can provide. It has taken real emotional work and psychological discipline to remain a voice of reason and hone internal “critical thinking skills”, while externally”playing the game” to the extent that enables one to influence in substantively constructive ways that enhance organizational opportunities to meet their intended “bottom-line(s)”. Yet such “independent thought” casts a view from the majority that You are not sufficiently one of them for their comfort, yet your value is well recognized, to be jettisoned when the “bottom-line” becomes he real priority it deserved.

    Such commitment to one’s core values has stoked a curious mix of introspective assessment and emotions for myself: critical self-assessment as I simultaneously assess the external, reconciling those two; self-respect; gratification; humility; confidence; loneliness, joy; fear; courage and even a sense of personal and career vulnerability.

    I enjoy your posts Lou; they demonstrate significant wisdom and experience. As you can see, i do indeed read them.

    Take care my friend-Gary

    1. Thanks Gary. I appreciate the feedback. I don’t claim to have it all right, nor do I have much in the way to offer to fix things. But, I believe it’s not so much about “fixing it” as it is being aware of what’s happening and doing a little bit each day to overcome the limitations and leverage what is good in the system.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *