What’s up with that kooky title? Well that’s how all your email coming from outside the “dot mil” domain appears to those inside…As if they are somehow more secure? I guess this is an attempt to highlight emails coming from us pogues outside the secure boundaries of DoD email and to alert those on the inside that there is danger in communicating outside the domain….Personally, I would like all their outgoing email to be marked [DoD Source] so I can choose not to read some of the mountains of stuff that comes out from them…Like the DoD media reports that give us a detailed “Readout of SecDef meeting with the Dali Lama” and the like (See the News section of this web site). I don’t think I have ever finished one of those “Readouts”, because frankly, there’s nothing of substance in them. Does anyone outside the Pentagon really care?(and I’m pretty sure only a very select few inside do) That’s a candidate for [DoD Source] marking so I can avoid it. And yet, some GS-15 is probably making a lot of money producing them. There’s also the de rigueur morning DoD press reports of the wildly successful strikes against ISIL targets conducted by our forces overnight. Yet another candidate to be marked [DoD Source]. I guess I have just become overwhelmed by all the happy talk to the point that I just don’t have confidence that everything I read is really “true.”
Now hold on there you DoD buckaroos!!!!! I’m not saying that what you put out is not “True”, but I think we can all agree that words can be put together is a way that while they are true, they may not be “truthful.” I put on an occasional seminar on Ethical Decision Making and in that class I discuss some points concerning “truth.” Perhaps the most famous seeker of a definition of truth was Pontius Pilate when he asked, “What is truth?” He didn’t get an answer to his question then and the answer to his question has been debated for centuries. In my previous article , Sigh-ber, I touched upon the wisdom of always being completely truthful so I won’t jump into that morass again. But is always just telling happy truth, and ignoring some of the bad news, being completely truthful? I think not. I recall during one session on the Hill when I was asked if we had fully funded the ship maintenance requirement I replied, “Yes Sir. We have fully funded the ship maintenance line to 75% of the requirement!” True enough! Anyway, I digress.
I am somehow offended that DoD chooses to mark my email as [Non-DoD Source]. I suppose I should be grateful that they deign to open my “insecure” emails. Given the thousands of emails folks receive in the Pentagon, my guess is that they will all become desensitized to that phrase and will ignore it. But……if someone ever clicks on a [Non-DoD Source] email and causes some sort of bot or bug or worm or virus to be introduced into that bastion of security, the “dot mil” domain, the Cyber-police will descend upon them for ignoring the [Non DoD Source] warning. I am sure the cyber-Dons within DoD are correct when they believe that this sort of thing can’t happen from within the “dot mil” domain….But somehow I still see echos of Bradley Mannings, Ed Snowdens and a lot of others who had inside access, that could care less about [Non DoD Source], because they were a [DoD Source]!
PS. My N8 former self can help but wonder how much it cost to mark all non DoD email as [Non DoD Source].
This will be one of my briefest articles, but a couple of things have compelled me to write about service, sacrifice and the luxury of choice. First and foremost on my mind is the upcoming Veterans Day, a national tradition dating back to November 11th, 1918. The end of the “War to end all Wars”, marked by a cessation of hostilities between German and Allied forces, was put into force on “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.” When President Wilson declared Armistice Day to be observed beginning in 1919, his intent was to have nationwide parades and events at 11AM on November 11th. The Congress eventually formalized Veterans Day in 1938, when it was declared that this date would be a time to honor American veterans of all wars. There was a time in the 60’s when there was a push for the big Federal Holidays (Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day) to occur on Mondays, allowing for three-day weekends to encourage “travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production,” but it was confusing and in the end Veterans Day moved back to November 11th in 1978. I don’t know if Wikipedia is the final authoritative source on Veterans Day, but according to Wiki, the purpose of Veterans Day as we now celebrate it is to “honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.”
“I do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) to bear true faith and allegiance to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and to observe and obey the orders of the president of the United States of America, and the orders of officers appointed over me.” 1789 Oath of Enlistment
While many veterans who served before 1973 may have been drafted and therefore not necessarily “volunteers” they still certainly sacrificed much in service to America. And many indeed volunteered to serve, even during the period when the draft was in effect. Since 1973 we have been an all-volunteer force and except for a few lean years, the Services haven’t had much trouble in filling enlistment quotas. I marvel at the extraordinary sacrifices our active duty, guard and reserve men and women in uniform make every day: risk to life in conflicts, separation from family and friends, careers put on hold, dangers at work, and countless others sacrifices that only they know. So I am proud to be among their number, although I am mindful that many have sacrificed so much more than I. They will be on my mind this upcoming Veterans Day. If you are looking for a way to honor those who have sacrificed much, there are many options….go to a Parade, give a homeless vet food and shelter, donate to a veteran-focused charity, etc. But for me, please don’t say “Thank you for your service.” As far as I’m concerned that’s a mindless phrase, a cop-out which allows one to feel good without having to commit anything. It’s expected and akin to saying “Bless You” after a sneeze. They are words spoken without commitment or consciousness by many who utter them. I would much rather hear, “I never served, but as a way of showing my gratitude for those who did, I work with homeless veterans at the local shelter”, or maybe, “Where did you serve and what did you do?” That shows interest not a clever, trendy reflex. And I would be OK with a “Thank you for your commitment America. I am grateful for your service.” At least put some thought and feeling in it!
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the president of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God..” Current Oath of Enlistment
I said I was going to be brief, so I better wrap up..The other event on my mind was the recent election of Representative Paul Ryan as Speaker of the House. I certainly wouldn’t want that job. But I was struck with his “demands” and how they contrast with the service our veterans rendered to our nation. They didn’t get an opportunity to bargain for weekends off to be with family or to say “I will serve, but only in CONUS.” Seems to me that he’s only going to be Speaker for a few years (probably less time than the average enlistment contract), so suck it up! Remember all those who don’t get a chance to spend weekends with their families while being shot at……a far cry from dangerous caucuses or risky debates in the halls of Congress. So it must be nice to have the luxury of choice and get credit for service without too much sacrifice as so many on the Hill are wont to do. I guess that explains why there is no “Congress Day” on our national calendar.
Here’s a way to honor our Veterans this year. Attend the Navy Safe Harbor Foundation Veterans Day luncheon at the Army Navy Country Club at the 11th Hour of the 11 Day of the 11th month: Click here to register.
It’s been a while since I opined on matters I know little about…so I thought I would continue that tradition by putting out a few thoughts about all things cyber. No doubt you have all heard about cyber-xxxxx until you are becoming immune to the cries of “Danger Will Robinson.”
And that is a real problem because cyber crime, cyber snooping, cyber intrusion, cyber war, and all manner of other things is perhaps the most significant challenge to the well-being of the good ole US of A in this century, IMHO. I’ve attended a series of meetings and had a couple of events in my personal life that have caused me to think a lot about this problem. But they way, I don’t claim ownership of any of these ideas. I have heard them in a variety of places from a variety of people. I just wrote them down in one place.
Nothing chafes me more than getting my credit card rejected, and then finding out that my credit card company has detected the unauthorized use of my card and I must get a new one. That’s when I realize just what a poor job I have done in protecting myself….I even have a spreadsheet now with all the web sites that I have to visit to update my credit card number. It has web addresses, user names, account numbers and passwords all laid out so I can spend about two hours on line changing them all…..Am I the only one with this problem??? I’ve started trying to put everything on line through PayPal, but who’s to say that won’t be hacked next?
Think about all the bad things that have happened due to cyber crime in the last year or so…..Target gets hacked, the Joint Staff email system is fried, the Pentagon Food Court is penetrated, the OPM debacle. BTW I just got my ( less than timely) letter last week from OPM informing me that all the information on my SF86’s was compromised….that’s efficiency for you!!! (No wonder they got hacked if the timeliness of their notification is any indication of their expertise) How long has it been since we all knew about the OPM fandango???? And yet…..no one has gone to jail on the criminal side and no one has been fired or disciplined ….for any of those things. And I’ve got to say that in the case of OPM, it seems to me the cure is worse than the disease….Let me get this straight…..I get free monitoring for a couple of years and all I have to do is enter in all the personal information they couldn’t keep secure anyway…They want me to enter driver’s license number, bank account numbers, credit card numbers….What kind of idiot do they think I am? They gooned it up once……and most likely will goon it up again…There’s no way I’m putting all that info into anything that has anything to do with OPM or the US Government, for that matter…( Isn’t the lowest bidder providing most of the government’s security packages?). They should just ask the Chinese or the Russians for my info, since they apparently already have it………but I digress.
As I have been thinking about cyber security and listening to the experts over the past few months, it has dawned on me that this is a problem like no other we have ever encountered. And that means it’s going to require some very innovative and unconventional thinking to fix it (and thus the perfect reason why DoD shouldn’t be in charge). Moreover, this problem is much too serious to be given to the techies to manage. This is far too important to keep in the IT closets of government and corporate America. Management and leadership must know this stuff cold and be intimately involved every day, in every way. Why do I say that? Here are a few unique aspects to the problem:
Everyone is an operator. Except for a few holdouts from America’s Greatest Generation, virtually everyone is slammin’ away at a keyboard or tip-tapping on a touch screen or talking to Siri(for those who are unable to get anyone else to talk to them). You don’t need a license, or any training, or have any awareness of just how badly you can screw things up to “operate” on the Internet. You all know people who shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet….the people who actually reply to the email from Mr. H. J. Spankle, Esq. from South Africa telling them that their long-lost cousin has left them a fortune. Or the ones who hit the “reply” button on the email from their bank telling them to update their user name and password……And yet they are all out there spending hours on-line, causing who knows how much damage. Their vote counts just as much as yours, by the way. This is why cyber experts will tell you that in most breaches, it’s not technology, but people at the root cause.
There are no boundaries. There are no borders to control, no time zones, no hours of operation, no holidays, no boundaries of any type on the Internet. As a result, it’s not clear where jurisdictions begin and end. I suppose you could say that firewalls are a type of boundary, but even the best of firewalls eventually get penetrated. I was recently visiting NAS North Island in San Diego and went to the Mother of all Starbucks, located next to the carrier pier. I tried to use my smartphone app to pay for coffee, but was told they weren’t allowed to use that feature on the base because of the possibility that using the Starbucks Pay App might cause a cyber-intrusion in the base network…Huh? If that’s the case on NAS North Island, why isn’t that the case at any Starbuck’s. They don’t even use the Navy network and yet the Navy is worried about intrusion. Can that be true? Do the folks making those decisions really know what they are doing??? I hope so, but it doesn’t make sense to me. This type of mentality reminds me of the old saying in Naval Aviation, ” If safety was paramount, we would never fly!”
No one is in control. This relates to the no boundaries problem. Since there are no boundaries, it’s not clear who is in charge. Of course, there are several organizations that may exercise some moderate influence, like the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) or maybe some of the companies maintaining Authoritative Name Servers (the keeper of the “phonebook” for domains like .com, .net, .org, etc) Until about 1999, a company known as Network Solutions,Inc. did this function, but now several entities claim this responsibility, along with organizations for domains like .biz and .edu. The United Nations has been monkeying around with Internet Governance as well, claiming that they don’t want the US in charge (BS IMHO) but in the end there is no single “belly button” in charge.
There in no difference between military, government and civilian operations. Everyone is in the same boat. This becomes a real problem after a hacking event when trying to attribute the attack to someone or something. Was it a hostile act by an opposing military power or was it a criminal act by some organized crime actor, or was it a terrorist act by a radical group, or was it just a random act of boredom by a “hackivist” wasting time between Minecraft games? Who knows? It all looks the same. This is a fundamental problem in determining what type of response is appropriate for any given attack. I have no doubt the US has the capability to “smoke check” every single computer in North Korea….or even turn my own laptop into a time bomb fueled by a “Phaser Overload” in my lithium battery pack, but to what end? Is it our responsibility to be the “Net Police”? Is it DoD, DHS, FBI, FCC, Radio Shack???? I just don’t know (and apparently neither does any of our leadership).
All share in the risk. Just look at the Target incident. Even though I might have been a completely hygienic internet user with impeccable security habits, all I needed to do was buy a lightbulb from Target using a credit card and BINGO….I’m hacked!! And think about the problem of someone else using your computer for whatever reason…all they need to do is click on one spam message and you are hacked. In fact, it takes just one ne’er-do-well on your vastly secure network to plug in one thumb drive, and you are hacked. You are at risk, even if you chose not to play the game. This has huge implications. BTW, do you all have the new credit cards with the chip that is supposed to enhance security? You know, the one that doesn’t work in any of the credit card readers?????? As far as I can tell it’s still swipe, swipe, swipe your personal information away!!!!!!
Cyber-Health is nonexistent in the masses. Probably an overstatement, but the point is that even very well educated folks are constantly falling prey to all sorts of scams, phishing schemes and electronic theft. Think about the little device that criminal stick to the ATM card slot that copies all your ATM card info. Or what about the scanners that can cue your smart phone to dump its address book (now we need metal card holders to prevent intrusion, a la the new Pentagon Badge Holders?). So my contention is that the vast majority of internet “operators” pay about as much attention to cyber-hygiene as they do about the dangers of texting and driving…..Once again, it only takes one to spoil the whole barrel and there are plenty of rotten apples running around out there.
So there are just a few reasons why cyber-related problems are unlike any we have tackled before. No great revelations here and sadly no solutions. But I contend that to get to the solution, we must first understand the problem we are fixing. I don’t think we are anywhere near understanding the extent, nature or consequences of living in a world where everything is connected. To my way of thinking, we have too much of a good thing and that can be bad thing. I am reminded of a discussion I once had with a prospective bridegroom when I was a marriage mentor. We were talking about the special relationship between married couples….no secrets, everything open and above board…Then I remembered that sometimes openness and honesty may not always be the best policy when it comes to marriage….I made that mistake early on in our marriage…..I recall coming home just weeks into our wedded life and passing on the blueberry pie the lovely Mrs. Crenshaw has spent many hours preparing (after attending classes all day). “Just so you know, I don’t like blueberry pie,” I said. Some four-two years later I regret that moment of honesty every day!!!!!!!!!!
So I have raised the hackles of my esteemed Warthog (A-10) brothers and sisters and Army and Marine
ground pounders before in an article entitled “The A-10 and Reality.” In that article I took the position that the A-10, even though it was a good airplane for its time (first flown in 1972), should be retired. I still believe that its time has come. You can read the details by going to the link, but my opinion is still that while it would be nice to have if the Air Force had unlimited amounts of money, it doesn’t. The A-10 is expensive to fly and maintain, it takes lots of logistics and people support and I question its survivability at low altitudes, given the proliferation and availability of hand-held SAMs. As I recall, there are usually altitude restrictions put into place in most combat situations to keep the aircraft out of threat envelopes, and I would submit these restrictions negate many of the advantages of an A-10 in a close air support role (CAS).
So why am I messing with this still festering wound? I just read about the impending (if you can define 3 years as impending)fly-off between the JSF and the A-10 to see which jet will win the CAS Crown. It’s been amusing to sit on the sidelines and see how this fandango developed. First, the Pentagon’s Test and Evaluation gurus, bowing to the extreme pressure from the Hill to keep the A-10, announced that sometime in 2017 or 2018 they would evaluate the JSF’s ability to be an effective CAS platform…Don’t you think it’s a little late to be thinking about that? I am just stunned that we would get this far without already knowing the answer to that question. Never mind that no matter what the outcome, we will still buy all the JSFs our increasingly limited defense dollars will buy (to the detriment of all other weapons systems, I might add). And because of all the other pressures, we will most likely have to retire the A-10 anyway. And this will be even more true three years from now when we finally get around to doing the tests.
Given all the problems we have in DoD acquisition, I think we could be putting our limited dollars and unlimited talents towards just getting the JSF delivered with some sort of combat capability, or figure out how to recapitalize the nuclear deterrence force, or figure out how to prevent some rag-tag bunch of cyber terrorists from obtaining every bit of personal/private information that I put on my security clearance application. Or figuring out how to actually win the PR war against ISIS…After all, isn’t this the land of Mad Men, Cyber-superiority and endless imagination? I just can’t figure out how those ISIS characters continue to scoop the US in the world of social media. A cynic might think we should hire ISIS to do the recruiting ads for us…(that’s just a joke for you NSA guys monitoring my web site!!)
The point is it is stunning to me that we have only decided to look at JSF CAS capabilities decades into its development and well past the point of no return. We will spend Tens of Millions of dollars to find out the answer to a question to which we already know the answer. I guess that I’m not surprised since given the copious quality of cash flowing through the JSF coffers, a few Tens of Millions of dollars probably don’t even break the event horizon.
But I digress….To continue the JSF/A-10 CAS saga, after the OSD poobahs announced the “fly-off”, Air Force Chief of Staff, General Mark Welsh says, “I think is would be a silly exercise.” YA THINK???? Of course, after he made those remarks, I’m sure he had a little one-on-one counseling over at the Pentagon. Hence, a few days later it was announced that the Air Force leadership is “fully on-board with the planned test schedule.” Sigh, you can’t make this stuff up!
I guess you are wondering which jet I think will win. The Warthog, of course. The A-10 was designed with a single purpose in mind…CAS. You know what? my guess is that if they did a fly-off between the JSF and the A-6 Intruder for gunsight bombing, the A-6 would reign supreme!
This whole episode reminds me of a quote by Emerson,”A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” I’m all for protecting our brave troops on the ground,but I think that there will be plenty of 21st Century weapons system available to do that without the A-10.
That WW II message was sent by Admiral Nimitz to Admiral Halsey in support of Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, Commander of landing forces seizing the island of Leyte in the Pacific. Admiral Halsey had fallen for the Japanesse ruse, diverting most of his carriers and battleships supporting the invasion to chase the Japanese decoy Northern Force, leaving Admiral Kincaid’s forces in the lurch. Famously, however, when the message was delivered to Halsey, the phrase “the world wonders” was added by mistake. Halsey took it to be an insult, creating bad blood between the two. There are some pretty funny accounts about “Bull” Halsey blowing his top when he read the message. Here is the actual message:
I just returned from the annual American Society of Military Comptrollers (ASMC) Professional Development Institute (PDI) in New Orleans. It was an outstanding opportunity to learn about the state of the art in the DoD budget and accounting. Well done to Executive Director Al Runnels and his staff!!! This year I reckon there was north of 2000 folks from throughout the DoD Financial Management profession….Army, Air Force, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Defense Agencies and even the US Coast Guard. Leadership and rank-and-file throughout DoD, from the Honorable Mike McCord, the Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller) on down, gathered to consult, confer and otherwise hobnob with their fellow budget wizards. In fact, I dare say that most of the senior Financial Management leadership from the services and defense agencies was there. There was only one thing missing: the Navy.
Yep, that’s right. The Navy chose not to participate. Given that every other service, defense agency, and the OSD staff decided it was important to send their people, I can only assume that either the Navy thought that its people (personnel in DoD speak) didn’t need the training offered at the PDI or that despite the need for training, barring their attendance was the safer or smarter move. So the Navy and USMC financial managers sat on the sidelines while the remainder of their counterparts in DoD heard for Mr. McCord; the Honorable Jamie Morin, Director of CAPE; Mark Reger, the Deputy Comptroller of the United States and numerous other senior officials. They attended required FM certification training, attended workshops, participated in a whole day of service-specific training and conducted community service projects. In the interest of accuracy, there were a handful of Navy folks there, but only if they were actually presenting a workshop or receiving a national-level award.
Why did the Navy choose not to participate? Well, it is true that in recent years “conventions” and other large-scale events have come under scrutiny because of some very bad decisions made by some not-so-good leaders. But checks and balances were put into place to ensure legitimacy and need before approving such meetings. All organizations in DoD went through the same process of evaluation. The PDI was not given “blanket approval” by DoD and thus the leadership in each organization had to make the call on whether or not to send its people to this valuable training. Obviously, Navy leadership uniquely decided this PDI was not in accordance with applicable rules and regulations and thus elected not to send its people. Now those of you who are not familiar with the world of financial management might wonder why a PDI is needed. Here’s the scoop:
Most DoD financial managers are required to receive about 40 hours of continuing professional education annually. Those who have achieved the coveted Certified Defense Financial Manager (your humble author among them) are required to take 40 hours annually to retain their certification. In addition, the DoD recently introduced a financial certification program aimed at increasing the professionalism of the FM workforce. It’s a tiered program with each level requiring specific courses delivered by qualified personnel. Once a certain level of qualification is reached, there is a continuing education requirement similar to those above. The highly specialized training required for the various certification levels is offered at the PDI, along with a variety of accredited courses that count toward annual training requirement. I’m not quite sure how many hours it would be possible to knock out at the PDI, but it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 20. That’s half the annual requirement!
To make sure people actually attend the training, they are individually scanned in and out of training sessions and only given credit if they attend the entire session. Each day begins at 07:00AM with breakfast and training sessions go on throughout the day until 4:40 PM. Believe me, that’s a long day and I have yet to figure out a way to “beat the system” so I have to sit through the classes all day to get credit. It’s not exactly a cake walk. You can be sure people are actually getting the training.
Enough of that. And now for the gorilla in the room: Yes, it’s in New Orleans, but there’s no escaping the fact that PDI attendees are sequestered (I just had to use that word) for a good nine hours a day….No zooming up and down Bourbon Street, no clowns wandering around, no $26 cupcakes…it’s all business during extended working hours. (This shouldn’t be surprising since it’s basically run by accountants, for accountants). By the way, what’s the difference between an introverted accountant and an extroverted accountant? The extroverted accountant looks at your shoes when he talks to you….Badda-Booom!
So I mentioned earlier that maybe the reason the Navy leaders chose not to send Navy and Marine Corps people to this training is that they don’t need it. Well, you would be wrong if you made that assumption. I attended a session where the current numbers of people certified by service was presented and the Navy was just a sliver in the pie chart while all other services were big, fat pie slices just like your grandmother would serve. So the Navy needs the training above all and they are obviously not getting it elsewhere. In fact, given the workload of Financial Managers these days, it is really hard to find the time to take on-line courses. Oh sure, there are on-line courses….and they are good for filling some portion of the requirement, but no matter what you say, nothing beats real-time, classroom training to allow for substantial interchange between students and instructors. Would you rather have your dentist fulfill his annual professional training staring at the PC at home while drinking a martini or attending a gathering of dental professionals with an opportunity to talk to pioneers of the latest in the dental art and exchange views and techniques with his/her peers? When he/she says “Good thing I saw how to put in this implant on You Tube”, how would you feel?? or how about this: “Oh yeah…..since you have to put in a 10 hour day at the office, just do that training in your spare time”……Right! Here’s an idea: Why not do your training the next time we furlough you? What’s the big deal? We have posted classroom material in all the heads…..do some training while you do your business!!! It’s all about being efficient!” Seriously folks, I do remember aircraft checklists being posted above the urinals and on the backs of the stall doors in the squadron head in order to make use of “spare time”!!!
I know I don’t have the right to criticize and I apparently don’t have all the facts, so I recommend the reader of this tome (It’s longer than I wanted) consider these thoughts to be from an unqualified, uninformed source. And if you were the decision maker, please don’t get all spun up. The decision was yours to make and I respect your decision. I just hope your staff did you the courtesy of making sure you had all the facts before you decided. (You only know what they want you to know.) I am confident that the Navy leadership can give you a much better reason for why they stayed away. That not withstanding, I hope the Navy decides to participate next year so they can be a part of the team. I know I was embarrassed that so few from my beloved Navy were there. And just because the rest of the Services, OSD, Coast Guard, and Defense Agencies took just a little risk and sent their people to PDI, doesn’t mean the Navy had to send its people to PDI(sigh, I can see my Mother saying that right now). Maybe they didn’t have the money to send their people (even though everyone else did). Maybe it wasn’t that important. Maybe there was another budget drill going on. Maybe they elected to spend the money on local training for the hundreds (if not thousands) of Navy FMers around the world. I just don’t know. But this I do know: when next year’s PDI rolls around I sure hope we don’t have to again ask, “Where is TASK FORCE THIRTY FOUR the FM world wonders?”
So I guess you have to be an old guy like me to remember Keith Jackson, long-time ABC Sportscaster, shouting “Whoa Nellie” but that’s what came to mind as I read the latest on the US Marine Corps audit saga. Apparently GAO has forced the DoD Inspector General to retract the Marine Corp’s clean audit opinion because of problems in the suspense accounts. Here’s a link to an article in Defense News with the details. I have opined on DoD audits on several occasions….first shouting with joy at the accomplishment, then wondering if it really mattered and finally pointing a limp finger towards the Defense Finance and Accounting Service for using “plugs” to fix differences with the Treasury.
So for the record……I told you so! It’s hard for me to believe that the underlying problem has existed for so long without apparent remedy. Here’s a link to a 2005 GAO Report in which GAO finds:
Until DOD complies with existing laws and enforces its own guidance for reconciling, reporting, and resolving amounts in suspense and check differences on a regular basis, the buildup of current balances will likely continue, the department’s appropriation accounts will remain unreliable, and another costly write-off process may eventually be required.
That was almost 10 years ago folks! This has been a continuing report topic for the GAO with various status updates being published throughout the years. Here’s an excerpt from the Summary of a more recent GAO report from December 2011:
Neither the Navy nor the Marine Corps have implemented effective processes for reconciling their FBWT[Funds Balance With Treasury].
Huh? Navy and Marine Corps have been preparing for audit for years and yet it doesn’t appear that they were able to make any progress in fixing a problem identified by GAO way back in 2005 as a key impediment to a clean audit opinion.
So what are the “Suspense Accounts” that are causing such a problem? Technically GAO defines them as “Combined receipt and expenditure accounts established to temporarily hold funds that are later refunded or paid into another government fund when an administrative or final determination as to the proper disposition is made. “ Translation: The place where a transaction is put when the documentation is incomplete so that it can not be assigned to a specific appropriation before it’s written off. To get an idea of scale, in 2005 GAO reports it was an absolute value of $35 Billion. Who knows what it is now? But I point out that it’s just about the amount of the DoD Sequestration hit. Perhaps if they fixed this problem, sequestration wouldn’t have such a bad effect? It seems to be to be awfully hard to go the the Hill and say that $35 Billion in spending cuts would kill the Department, when they are not exactly sure about $35 Billion already sitting around. Those on the defensive will say that the differences are eventually reconciled, but I am skeptical…and since they are already written off, does it really matter? My guess is the money goes straight into the US Treasury Black Hole that all checks drafted to the US Treasury go…you know…that big ever increasing dense ball of greenbacks sitting in the Treasury Department basement.
This problem is precisely why DoD needs to get on with the audit….so they can be sure they know where the money is and provide accurate estimates of the impact of budget cuts. If my kids came to me and said” We need more allowance”, and when asked what did they did with allowance I already gave them they reply, “We don’t know, but we need more!”, I would be highly skeptical of their requirement.
As it stands now, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines will spend around $45 Million this year for audits they already know will fail because of the DFAS Suspense Account issues. Why not spend the money to fix that problem before plodding ahead for a pre-ordained result? To be sure it’s a tough problem…after all we have her unable to fix it for 10 years.
Who’s to blame, you ask? Well, there’s enough to go around….DFAS for not fixing it, but also the Services for not taking actions to fix the paperwork before it gets to DFAS. Ultimately, the fault probably rests on the shoulders of all those folks in DoD who improperly enter information at the command level. I would also guess that given the kludge of IT systems required to record transactions, that errors are also introduced between systems, hand-jammed data is incorrectly transferred, and by improperly trained people entering data. This is what is referred to as a “Wicked Problem,” in management parlance. A “Wicked Problem” is defined as ” a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. The use of term “wicked” here has come to denote resistance to resolution, rather than evil. Moreover, because of complexity, the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create other problems. For more info on “Wicked Problems” you can download the original paper written by C. West Churchman for $30 here.
Is the problem of unresolved transactions so complex that it defies correction? Perhaps given the current architecture within DoD it is, and that alone is reason for the new DCMO to tackle it. A fresh look is needed and the DCMO might be just the person to do it. Right now DoD has an acting DCMO, and given the current political environment, I am not too sure the current nominee, Peter Levine will get confirmed….But for now Mr. Dave Tillotson has the dot. Can someone in an “acting” position draw enough water to tackle this problem? Don’t know, but why not give it a whirl. If and when Mr. Levine gets in the chair, it would be a great legacy to fix this problem once and for all. Given his reputation, I have no doubt that he could fix it.
Unfortunately, Brian Williams, NBC News anchor who is under the gun for exaggerating his “Combat” experiences, is not the only instance of politicians, military leaders and corporate executives that got caught gilding their own lilies. Mr. Williams’ latest predicament has brought to mind a few ideas which I thought I would share with leaders of all sorts, military and civilian.
The first that comes to mind is that people in positions of authority (like national news anchors) are always being watched…I don’t mean NSA-type watch (although I have no doubt they are watching each and everyone of us), but being watched by those who work for and listen to them. Their every word is heard, digested, analyzed just as their every action is recorded and digested in someone’s brain. It’s natural that leaders are watchable people. Hopefully, their people want to be like them. It is said in the Navy that a ship mirrors the personality of its captain, and I am here to tell you that it is absolutely true. I’ve seen it again and again. It’s because everyone is watching the Captain…they want to do things his way, they want to respond the way she responds. What Officer of the Deck (OOD) hasn’t been standing watch on the bridge in a dark and stormy night and mused, “What would the Captain do?” With this scrutiny comes the responsibility to always act and talk like you are in a classroom filled with wide-eyed kids who are going to go home and tell their parents everything you did and said. Even when you think they are not watching, they are….especially in the digital age of tweets, twerks, instagrams, posts, e-mail, etc. Mr. Williams, regrettably, has (had, once NBC dumps him) millions watching him and the example he set certainly fell short of the mark. C’mon Brian!
Second, I think Mr. Williams wanted so much to be like the exceptional men and women that serve in our military, that he just had to seize on any opportunity to “be like them.” Frankly, there are many folks out there in that boat…those who had an opportunity to serve in the Armed Forces and either didn’t or couldn’t. When they see their countrymen and women risking life, limb and happiness they regret not having served. I see this a lot in politicians who never served in the military. And so, they begin to find ways to “join the club.” Some are deserving of club membership, combat correspondents, foreign service officers, police, firemen, and all other manner of folks who put themselves in harm’s way for whatever reason. But merely telling a story to gain membership in the club is not enough. Sure, he wanted to be in the helo that was shot down, but he wasn’t. C’mon Brian!
Now NBC is investigating Mr. Williams for what may have been other exaggerations during his career. Here’s a link to an article that calls into question the truthfulness of his coverage of Hurricane Katrina. The lesson to be learned here is a bit more subtle, but oh so important. Once you decide to tell the smallest of “untruths” and get away with it, you are set on a path of inevitable ruin. One of my favorite books, The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis describes the trials and tribulations of a young, apprentice devil, Wormwood, and his uncle and mentor, senior devil Screwtape. In order to be promoted, Wormwood must take a human and corrupt him so that he is doomed to Hell. Uncle Screwtape provides advice and counsel. Wormwood’s problem is that everytime he makes some inroads in the corruption of his “patient”, the patient goes to church and is set back on the straight and narrow. Wormwood decides he needs to orchestrate a “Big” event to damn his patient once and for all. When he informs Screwtape of the plan, Uncle Srewtape replies, “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,….” Indeed, once you start down the slippery slope of exaggeration before you know it the external temperature will begin rising to an uncomfortable level. And then it’s too late. Who knows when the NBC news anchor started down the “gentle slope?” C’mon Brian!
And I don’t buy for a minute Mr. Williams’ explanation that “I forgot.” Baloney! If you are in a helo that gets shot out of the sky you will remember….and just as clearly you will remember you were not. I was in the Pentagon on 9/11. I was near where the airplane hit…heard it, felt it, smelled it. I will never forget. I clearly remember my first real combat mission during Operation El Dorado Canyon(Lybia 1986). I flew on the strike…I got shot at……I was scared $%*%^&&^less. If I had flown that night in a tanker mission which didn’t go over the beach….I would remember that clearly too. One just does not forget those life-changing events, nor do they confuse them. Now I know that PTSD and TBI may alter memories, but I doubt if Mr. Williams suffers from those problems. C’mon Brian!
I must make a qualifier here….There will always be Sea Stories, War stories, exaggerations and boasting where Warriors gather. We all know to take what is said with a grain of salt. Indeed, I always thought that if I ever wrote a book about my experiences in the Navy the preface would say,
“These stories have some basis in fact, although over the years they have been embellished so as to make them either more believable or less non-believable. I do not state that they are the absolute truth, nor are they lies. They are just the way I have told them over the years and, like a fine wine, they improved with age. This is a book of fiction, inspired by memorable events. Do not cite this book as a reference for any serious endeavor.”
The key point about sea stories and the like is that one must have shared the years of separation from families, faced the horror of combat, walked in the shoes of the brave, been there-done that to be a credible teller of these tales. Mr. Williams is not, and was not…and therefore gets no sympathy from me.
I guess it’s that time of year when one must talk about all things budget. And since I am only a small gnu within the herd, I too will opine on the obvious. Several thoughts came to mind as I was reading some of the commentary on the budget. It’s always fun to read the DoD press releases and to see the latest spin. How well-educated and experienced people can say some of this stuff with a straight face is a mystery to me. Take the DoD article on its press site today, “Budget Request Balances Today’s Needs Against Tomorrow’s Threats.” The article is a summary of a press conference held by DoD Comptroller, Mike McCord. I love his characterization of the budget: “although planners were aware of financial constraints, the budget is a strategy-driven construct.” Translation–we ignored the budget caps. As an aside, you all know how I hate the way the Pentagon takes common words and complicates them…like “construct“. Don’t they mean plan? I confess that I used to be as bad as the next Pentagonian in inflating words to add an air of sophistication and deep-thoughtedness to them. The “construct” word stands out in my mind because I used it one day while briefing the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Ike Skelton. He stopped me and asked, “What the heck does that mean…construct’? I replied, ” Well, you know…the product of the assimilation of a multitude of facts and non-facts into a non-coherent stream of pseudo-strategy designed to defend an un-defendable position.” Mr. Skelton replied,” Just say plan. Don’t make it so complicated with strange words.” AMEN…..And after that, I tried to avoid Pentagonisms like the plague.
Once again this budget side-steps many of the large issues, like the runaway Joint Strike Fighter budget and focuses in on the marginal stuff…TRICARE rate hikes, cutting Commissary hours, as well as proposing the impossible…base closure, A-10 retirement and the like.
But that’s not the subject of today’s blog, so I will move on from that unpleasantness…….Today’s topic is about HOW the Pentagon arrives at its budget. Of course, it’s fairly common knowledge to this audience that it uses the Planning, Programming Budgeting and Execution (PPBE) system.
A very regimented (or so it used to be) process with a clearly and elegantly articulated set of roles, rules, responsibilities, and schedules. Here is a link to a very well written Army War College paper by LTC Thomas T. Frazier on the history of PPBE system (originally PPBS). Here’s the Cliff Notes version. PPBS was instituted by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in the early 60’s because his opinion what that there was no clear process of deciding what to fund and how much to fund. Here is a link to my presentation on how the PPBE system works. Over the last few years the process has morphed from the nice neat process because of Continuing Resolutions, shutdowns, furloughs, war and all manner other issue. Anyway, Secretary McNamara felt that the Pentagon budget process was really one of Incrementalism…just adding more money each year with little thought of where it was going. Interestingly, the things which drove the change came down to six flaws in 1961:
Budget decisions were largely independent of plans
Duplication of effort among the Services
Service budgets prepared largely independent of one another with little balancing across Services
Services felt they were entitled to a fixed share of the budget, regardless of contribution to overall defense needs
The budget process focused on next year, with little regard for future impacts
Little analysis behind the numbers
Sound familiar? I submit that all of these factors exist today to some degree or another, perhaps for different reasons than in 1961, but they exist nonetheless. That’s why I think it’s time for a serious discussion about changing the process. Over the past half-century we have fallen back into some very bad habits. They were good reasons for change then, and equally good for change now.
Many would say today’s budgets are very independent of plans. Despite the efforts of the 24,000 or so Pentagon workers, in the end the budgets are determined in large measure by political decisions. I note that the elegant planning process in the Pentagon has recommended decommissioning the A-10, laying up Aegis Cruisers, another round of BRAC, and on and on. These proposals were developed by thousands of planners chewing up millions of man hours, yet the analysis is ignored by the Congress. As the Navy’s N8 I came to the conclusion that at any given moment probably 90% of the people in the Pentagon are working on some part of the budget. But to what ends? At the end of the day, the budget never changes more than about 1% -1.5%, despite the hundreds of thousands of man hours devoted to changing it? Why bother? Given there is so little change, why not stop all the madness of millions of minor budget data base changes which in the end have less than a 1% impact? We could get by with half the people in the Pentagon and let them do something more constructive.
There’s no doubt that we have still to tackle the duplication of effort issue. We still have an unexplainable excess of tactical aircraft in the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps because no one is willing to give the mission up. Look how much money that one is costing us in the guise of the JSF.
With regard to independent budget development by the Services, that’s still a problem too. How often do you think Air Force budgeteers sit down with the Navy guys to go over their current budget plans…Answer: never…It’s not until OSD gets the budgets that the Services find out what each is really up to. Heck, the Marines don’t share much of their budget with the Navy until end-game, and they are in the same Department!
The one-third rule ( every Service is entitled to roughly a third of the DoD budget) is still alive and well in the Pentagon. But because of the growth of the Fourth Estate (DoD agencies and combatant commands according to SECDEF nominee Ash Carter) the pie has been further divided. It’s almost the one-fourth rule now. What’s up with that? The process will never work if one assumes equal shares for all.
As far as budgets being focused on one year, despite the best efforts of DoD to lay in a 5 year plan, it is essentially redone every year. I used to submit the Navy’s 30 Year Shipbuilding plan almost every year with major changes. What kind of long-range plan is that? The truth is that with the way we fight the budget wars from year to year, coupled with the inability of the Congress to regularly and reliably pass funding and authorization legislation, DoD has no choice but to focus on one year. It has become so challenging to execute the budget and build several (the base budget, the sequester budget, the President’s budget, Overseas Contingency Ops budget) that it is impossible to focus on later years.
Perhaps the bright spot is the improvement in the department’s analytical capabilities. We certainly have a world class capability, which produces fantastic analysis. The problem is that it is sometimes ignored by those that matter..either in the Pentagon or on the Hill. To be fair, I should say the analysis is selectively ignored. If the analysis supports your program, it’s cited again and again. If it doesn’t, then one has to play the “experience” or “uncertainty” card. You have all heard that argument: “It’s an uncertain and dangerous world and the analysis does not adequately take that into account. We must rely on our experience and intuition.”
Of course, the PPBE is only one way in which the DoD manages its money. A few years back I gave a presentation on “How DoD Manages Money” in which I cited the following techniques:
Management by topline
Management using the “More Money” rule
Management by appropriation
Management by Service
Management by rice bowls
Management using the 1/3 Rule
Management by congressional district
Management by PPBE
It’s too complicated to explain here, but check out the presentation. Even though it was done in 2009, I think it’s relevant today.
So that’s my rail of the day. We need to change the PPBE. I don’t know how. I am not that smart. Maybe some smart combination of the above management systems… I do know that the same reasons we decided to re-twicker the DoD budget process in 1961 exist today. We should convene a group of smart folks (and not just old fogies like me who got us into this mess in the first place) to consider how to develop a process which eliminates the 1961 reasons. It’s time for some new and innovative thinking, done by all interested parties (Congress, DoD, Administration) on how to fix the problem.
“Opportunity, Growth, and Security” Initiative: Slush Fund
Innovation: Not in DoD dictionary
Multi-lateral Security Architecture: Treaty
Force Planning Construct: Size
Efficiencies: Negative Budget Wedges
As I was reading the news this morning, I found this article on the name change of the “Air Sea Battle” concept in DoD Buzz. So forget about Air-Sea Battle and let me introduce you to Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons! True to form, the Joint Staff has managed to take a relatively simple name and complicate it to the point of non understanding. Of course what would a new concept be without its accompanying acronym, JAM-GC? I suppose the pronunciation will be JAM-Jic or something like that. I can here the conversation in the Pentagon Food Court now, “What are you working on now?”….”Oh, I’m now the JAM-Jic lead and believe you me there’s lots of jamming and jickin to be done now that this Air-Sea thing has vaporized.”
So, I was never a fan of the Air-Sea Battle thing. IMHO, it was just a budget ploy by the Air Force ( and a somewhat reluctant Navy) to show relevance in an era where it’s relevance was waning. It’s not the first time the Air Force, after becoming alarmed by increasing dependence on and relevance of naval forces, began to seek ways to move into Navy mission territory. This always puzzled me, because in my mind it’s always be a air-sea-land battle. Especially as the perceived budget pressures have forced all the Services to cut force structure. In any serious and protracted campaign, the Navy needs Air Force tanking and command and control capabilities. And the Air Force relies on the assets from the Navy with little or no support requirements to beef up the Joint Force. It was never clear to me why Air Force and Navy needed to invent a “new concept” for something that has always existed….except for the issue of the Joint Strike Fighter. This $160 Billion over-budget, 7 year-late program is costing the King’s treasure and consuming all other aspects of the budgets of both services. Why not influence operational concepts as well? The story line? Air Force and Navy are inextricably linked by the Air-Sea Battle Concept and we must have the JSF to make it work. To the Hawks on the Hill, this can be a very compelling argument. One wonders what was going through the minds of the Army folks while they watched this little menage a deux develop.
Well, I guess the Army dusted things up enough to cause a name change, albeit no less threatening to their budget. As they say in the Patriot’s locker room, “All’s fair in love and war!” So to appease the Army, it appears we now have a new concept. And the name is a doozy…..Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons. Access is there to appease the Air Force and Navy, while Maneuver is there to keep the Army below the horizon of the doctrinal landscape.
I have to comment that the new name doesn’t do much for me…..especially the Global Commons piece. To this dinosaur, Global Commons is just a hoity-toity pretentious way for the Pentagon illuminati to show how deep their thoughts are. What is/are the Global Commons? Here’s what Wikipedia says:
a term typically used to describe international, supranational, and global resource domains in which common-pool resources are found. Global commons include the earth’s shared natural resources, such as the deep oceans, the atmosphere, outer space and the Northern and Southern polar regions, the Antarctic in particular. Cyberspace may also meet the definition of a global commons.
I am assuming that in the context of the Pentagon’s understanding, global commons to us unenlightened means “the places we want to be, that others don’t want us to be.” My suggestion for the name of the concept would be the “Enter, Conquer,Stay, Operate” Concept, ECSO or EkSo. It’s sooooo much nicer than Jam-Jic, Don’t you think?
Anyway, as we face serious and deadly threats from everywhere and everything, Syria, Afghanistan, ISIS/L,Budgets, cyber, meteorites, ebola, global warming, etc., it’s good to know we still have thinkers working on US access and maneuver in the Global Commons.