Failing at Success

Today’s missive is about the failure of success.  This phrase is a take on the one coined in a paper I often reference by Dean Ludwig and Clinton Longenecker entitled The Bathsheba Syndrome: The Ethical Failure of Successful Leaders. This came to mind once again as I was reading the morning paper and discovered an article on yet another Naval Officer pleading guilty to bribery and conspiracy  charges  in conjunction with the Fat Leonard debacle.  Here’s another sad failure of a successful individual.  Perhaps this commander was an otherwise decent guy.  But how does a decent guy, a successful Naval officer, wind up in the throes of bribery and prostitution?  Before I sound too self-righteous, I should point out that there is a dark side to each of us.  I just finished reading a great book by Christian Miller entitled The Character Gap: How Good Are We?  The theme of this book was that we all are some mixture of good and bad.  Most people wind up between the extremes.  Surprisingly, we tend to think we are not a bad as we might actually be, and  we almost always overlook our flaws.  This problem of human nature gets magnified when we become successful, making it all the more important to constantly evaluate our behavior. The book ends with some strategies to keep one on a virtuous path.  There is one interesting strategy worth mentioning here, “nudging toward virtue.”  The basic premise is that there are little “nudges” you can make which tend to move one towards a more virtuous life.  The analogy used is called “Fly in the Urinal”.  There’s an airport in Europe that was having real trouble with maintaining cleanliness in the men’s room. Signs urging guys to pay more attention to doing their business apparently didn’t have much effect.  By engraving the image of a house fly in the bottom of the urinals, spillage decreased 80%.  The signs were a hammer, the fly was a nudge, but many times more effective than the hammer.  (I’m reminded of the sign in the men’s room at Penn Station in New York: ONLY ONE PERSON PER URINAL) Nudges can be little things, giving blood, giving a homeless person a buck at a stoplight, a quick thank you to the janitor, etc.   While nudges won’t necessarily turn things around, they are a reminder that each one of us could do better.

Back to failures of success. Examples are everywhere.  I always introduce myself as a ‘twice-failed” retiree.”  I just can’t seem to get this retirement thing right.  Many small businesses fail because they are wildly successful as an 8(a), but fail to make the transition to big business.  Football teams can be highly successful for 58 minutes of a game, only to revert to a “prevent defense” for the last two minutes.  They stop doing the things that made them successful for most of the game and the opposing team takes advantage of this lapse. Senior leaders destroy brilliant careers by outrageous behavior. They, too, abandon what made them successful all their career.

 

 

 

It seems to me that the worlds of success and failure are very much alike:

  • Success or failure does not always relate to level of effort. Luck plays a role.  Other people play a role.  Events beyond your control play role.  This is why it is so important to reflect on the results of your labors.  Was I just lucky this time?
  • Success or failure tend to have unintended consequences on those around you. They may be impacted, even though they may have had nothing to do with your behavior or actions.
  • A single event can make you a success or a failure, but a single event rarely turns the tables. If you are successful, analyze why and keep doing that.  If you have failed, realized that there’s probably a long road ahead to turn things around. (Note to self: Insert Luigi the Bridge Builder Joke here)
  • Success and failure can be unfair. As they say, “A rising tide floats all boats”, but just as easily,  one bad apple can ……yadda, yadda, yadda.
  • Success and failure can happen randomly. Most leaders say one makes one’s own luck by setting the favorable conditions.  Throughout my life, I’ve been lucky enough to have the successful surprises outnumber the opposite.
  • Both always bring the judgement of others on you, good and bad. Some are envious. Some are resentful. Some feel vindicated.   Some are happy/sad for you.  Regardless, you will be judged.

 

So how does a successful person avoid the “failure of success”, succumbing to the Bathsheba Effect? How does one stay on the success side of the fine line?(This is a good place to point out that I firmly believe that the more successful you are, the more susceptible you become to the failure of success.)  Besides the aforementioned Nudge to Virtue, Here are a few of tips I found useful:

 

  • Set the Standard. Make sure all who work for you know YOUR standard.  A particularly useful way to do this is to send out a memo on what your expectations are and how you expect business to be conducted.  Include topics like who pays for lunch, how you expect gifts to be handled,  what can and can’t be in an email, etc.  If people know what you expect, they will generally deliver, but you have to tell them first.
  • Use moral reminders. Set up a system to make sure you are adhering to your moral compass.  Have an ethics topic of the day at staff meetings.  I found using my EA as a moral reminder was effective.  If I was scowling during a meeting, he might pass me a note that said “Smile.”  Just think of something to keep yourself grounded and use it.
  • Seek role models. Nothing beats having a good role model to fall back on.  It doesn’t have to be someone who you can talk to (although that helps)  Read about those you admire. Study their character traits and think about how they might react to a situation
  • Attend to “Nagging Feelings.” If you find yourself mulling over tough decisions again and again, or if you are spending a lot of time justifying a decision, then something is wrong.  If it’s bugging you, then you probably need to do some more thinking.  Someone once said, “A clear conscience is the softest pillow.”  It’s true.  I suppose the corollary is “A guilty conscience is a bed of nails.”  Bottom line is to listen to that little voice in your head.
  • Fill the “Knowing-Doing” gap. This is a hard one for people that move into leadership positions.  One of the “separators” between leaders and followers, is that leaders don’t have the luxury of looking the other way.  If you know about something, you must take action.  Once people are confident that you take action on the things you know need fixing, they are far more likely to take action themselves.
  • Seek Advice. This is closely related to having a mentor, but is really all about realizing your limitations and knowing when to ask for advice on an issue.  Having another perspective on tough issues can be very helpful and healthful.
  • Practice Ethical Fitness. Think a little each day about how you are preparing for the next tough decision.  Listen to the news and think about how you would react to situations.  Work a little daily at making tough decisions so that when the chips are down and you have little time to make a decision, your ethical reflexes kick in.
  • Get out of the office. Walk around.  Talk to people.  Watch what’s going on.  Read the bulletin boards.  Have lunch in the cafeteria with employees.  Don’t let the small cloud of sycophants and head-nodders surrounding you keep you from knowing what’s really going on.
  • Listen to (and value) all opinions. You don’t have to agree with or heed all the advice you are given, but it sure helps to know what others think.
  • Reflect. Set some time aside for reflection each day.  Insist your staff schedules it and protects it.  Don’t let them fill it up with other meetings.  It doesn’t have to be long…15 minutes is fine.  There are plenty of people over you that can intrude on your time for reflection, but don’t let your staff do it.
  • Be a role model. Pretty simple.  You are a role model, rather you want to be or not.  Remember that while it may not seem like it, everyone is watching what you do, what you say and how you say it.  They are like your young kids sitting in a car seat.  They are listening to everything  you say and are happy to provide the grandparents with a complete rundown of what was said.

 

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Out With The Old

I’ve been meaning to put together one of those “What’s Out, What’s In” lists.  Recently I was speaking at an event and I came up with an abbreviated list of outs and ins that I thought I would share.  You know the list I’m talking about? The Washington Post usually puts one in the Style section in the week between Christmas and New Years…probably because all the highly-paid writers are off on holiday, so the hoi polloi stuck in the office get the task of putting one together.  Lately the list has served as notice to me that I seem to have lost track of what’s hot and what’s not in the world these days.  Here’s a link to this year’s list.  I got about 10% of the items.  Swedish Death Cleaning?  What’s that?  I did think the “Plastic Bags Stuck in Trees ⇒ Cardboard Stuck in the Gutters” was pretty funny, given the huge number of Amazon boxes in circulation.   You could spend all day clicking on the links to try and understand the humor, but why bother when I’m about to give you a much easier to understand list?  Feel free to send me some more and I’ll put them in.  Here goes:

 

What’s Out

LPTA

R&D

Big IT Buys

Servers

Desktop

Single Awards

Last of the Boomers

Office

Multiple Services

Service Medical

Audit Prep

Pokémon

Continuing Resolutions

Fires/Floods/Hurricanes

2016 Presidential Election

Service Dogs

National Security Strategy

What’s In

Performance Based

Innovation

Agile

Cloud

Mobile

Multiple Awards

Millennials/Xers/iGen

Flex

Shared Services

DHA

Audit

Poke

More Continuing Resolutions

Meteors/Earthquakes/Zombie Apocalypse

2020 Presidential Election (Already?)

Service Ducks

National Military Strategy

 

 

OK. That’s all I could come up with on short notice, but it’s a fun exercise to think about what seemed to be so critical 365 days ago is all but forgotten now. Every time I do this exercise, I am reminded about the progression on leadership themes I have seen in the Navy since I was a midshipman. Let’s see if anyone remembers: Day-long Sensitivity Training, Management by Objective (MBO), Total Quality Management (TQM), Lean, Six Sigma, Navy Enterprise Model, Accelerated Learning, Business Process Reengineering.  I can still see the TQM workshops with the red and white balls in my mind as well as watching videos of Demming droning on.  I remember when it was declared that all SES and Flags should be at least a Brown Belt. I’m not quite sure what management fad we are in now, but if you have some ideas, please comment.  By the way, I hope this page looks decent.  It taxed my knowledge of HTML to get columns into the article…And harder still to get them to stop.  By the way, for all you retired Flags and SESers, I will be happy to collect your brown belts and sell them on consignment.

 

 

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Who do you trust? Part Two

This is the second part of an article on trust.  In Part One, most of the discussion was on whom I did not trust and why.  Of course, everyone wants to be on the other list, the “I Trust” list.  In the last article, I asked that you take some time to make your own list of those you trust and don’t’ trust and to think about why they fall on a particular list.  The ultimate aim for you to strive to be on everyone else’s “I Trust” list.  It’s a great list to be on.

 

Whom do I Trust?

I had a tougher time coming up with a list of those I trust because I found that unless someone had done something to violate my trust, most people were on my “I Trust Them” list.  There are some obvious ones that I won’t dwell on:  parents, brother, wife, children and their families, close friends, etc. There are some outside of my immediate circle of family and friends that I do think are worth mentioning:

My pilot.  Many years ago as a Bombardier/Navigator flying A-6 Intruders I found myself completely dependent on the aviation skills of the person sitting directly to my left, my pilot.  Over the years I may have trusted some more than others, but I never jumped in a jet without complete confidence that we were going to get home safely.  There were no flight controls over on my side, so I guess I didn’t have much of a choice.

The flight deck crew.  More than 1000 times I placed my life in the hands of the young Sailors who were responsible for maintaining my airplane,hooking it to the catapult, ensuring the correct amount of steam was dialed in, directing my Intruder back to the carrier via radar control, setting the arresting gear to the correct weight and taxing the jet to a safe parking spot.  Over the course of a deployment, I came to know many of them personally….but not all.  And still I trusted them completely.

The Post Office.  Oddly enough, I trust the Post Office to deliver important mail, almost without question…I send my tax payments, pay bills, and Christmas cards and expect them to get there, on time and intact.  If I didn’t trust them, I suppose I could use FEDEX, UPS or some other private courier, but they are expensive.  Because I trust the Post Office to deliver, it’s not worth the cost and, in truth, FEDEX has lost a very valuable shipment (my golf clubs).   I’m reminded of the scene in Miracle on 34th Street  when Fred Gailey does such a masterful job of describing the Post Office. Unfortunately, his main point is the US Postal Service is an arm of the US Government, and that alone should prove that it’s efficient, effective and reliable- not necessarily these days.  A recent Gallup Poll revealed 47% of Americans have little or no confidence in their government. (ED Note: The Lovely Mrs. Crenshaw disagrees with me on this one….yet she still sends lots of payments through the US Mail..I’m just sayin’)

Amazon Prime.  You can count of one hand the number of times that Amazon has missed a promised delivery date.  When they do miss, I get a message letting me know that something’s going to be late.  So I trust Amazon not only because they have a track record of delivering on their promises, but also because they let me know when they are going to fall short of my expectations.  This is an important concept for leaders to ponder.  Those who work for you will not always be right, or deliver on your expectations. But if you let them know that you trust them, more often than not they will deliver and your trust level with them will increase.  I always expected that everyone who worked for me was doing their jobs and didn’t spend a lot of time checking up on them.  If something went amiss and they had told me about it, then I may not have been happy, but I did not lose trust in them.  On the other hand, if something went wrong and I didn’t know about it, not only was I unhappy, but I also lost trust in that person.  As a result, I had to check on everything they were doing and eventually I just didn’t give them anything to do.

Banks.  Call me naïve, but I just don’t worry about the safety and integrity of my deposits.  I’ve had a hiccup or two throughout the years, but unlike my parents, I keep the majority of my money deposited in bank accounts.  I mention that because as my brother and I have been going through things in the old family home (My Dad passed away a couple of years ago and my Mom now lives in an assisted living facility) we found some cash just stuffed between the pages various books.  My Dad kept a giant safe in the house with a substantial amount of cash in it.  They never had credit cards, and on the rare occasion they travelled, they used cash.  They were a product of the Great Depression and no doubt didn’t trust banks as a result.  I know that there are constant cyber threats which seek to challenge the integrity of the banking system, but I trust my financial institutions to stay on top of things.

 

The pilots in the cockpit of my next flight.   Why not?  If I didn’t trust them I guess I would drive.  Of course, I have no idea who they will be or what their safety record is.  I trust that the various players in that chain have followed all the rules and regulations and that the pilots themselves have enough integrity to know when it’s not safe for them to fly.  I know there are occasional reports where a crewmember has been removed for being drunk but they are not frequent enough to affect my trust.  In reality, it’s not the individuals I trust, but the institutions which govern the pilots’ behavior.  I assume that such institutions are one of those that the 53% of Americans do trust .  I just saw in the news that 2017 was an extremely safe year for American-based airlines, with zero casualties related to accidents.  My trust seems well placed, for now.

Factors in Trust

So why do I trust those on my list?  I won’t comment on my trust of family and friends, except to say that in almost seven decades they have never let me down.  It’s why I’m generally a trusting person.  I know that not all of you will trust every family member, spouse or certain friends, most likely because they violated your trust.  That gets to a point I made in the previous article, lack of trust because that trust was violated. Here are some factors in fostering trust:

Reliability.  Many people and organizations I trust deliver on their promises regularly and reliability.    It’s important to note that those organizations don’t always deliver, but the ones I trust are really good about keeping me informed when they know my expectations may not be met.  When they miss the mark, I have confidence that they are looking into the whys and wherefores and they will do better next time.  If you want others to trust you, you have to deliver or “fess” up when you fall short.

Empathy.  I trust those that I think are considering my concerns when they are making decisions on my behalf.  Those decisions may not always be the ones I would make, but at least they considered my point of view.  This is the principal reason many Americans lack trust in the Hill at present.  A December 2017 Gallup Poll on approval rating of the US Congress found that 78% of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing.  I submit that most of the problems on the Hill come from a lack of trust among them.   Neither side of the aisle trusts the other, so nothing really gets done.  People compromise when there is respect for and trust in the views of others.  Violation of confidentiality, constant partisan bickering and “he said, she said” confrontations all erode trust.    To be trusted in your dealing with others, they must feel that you care about their views, not necessarily agree with them.

Honesty.  If I find out that someone was not honest with me, I will not trust them.  Honesty is fundamental to any trusting relationship.  There’s a presentation on Ethical Decisions in the Insights tab of the CCA Website, and it has a section on honesty, truth and truthfulness, so I won’t rehash that here.  I do want to say a word about my previous comment about telling the truth and being truthful.  I’ve seen this get people into trouble again and again and as a result, they lose credibility and sacrifice trust.  You know what I’m talking about here.  Remember the old gag in The Pink Panther?  “Does your dog bite?”

Same thing here.  Carefully crafting answers that are true, but not truthful is a quick ticket to the “Don’t Trust” list.

Track Record of Trust.  If I tell you something in confidence, I expect my wishes to be honored.  People who have proved themselves trustworthy by respecting my wishes in the past are likely to stay on my trust list until proven otherwise.  In the electronic age this is hard to do.  There are so many ways that you can inadvertently blab something said in confidence and the next thing you know, it shows up on Facebook.  Being able to openly express opinions is part of a healthy debate, but be sure all know the ground rules before getting started.  I go to a lot of events with Chatham House Rules.  If you want a whole bunch of folks labeling you as untrustworthy, violate that rule.  However, a word to the wise.  Nothing in the world of public affairs is “off the record.”  I am very choosy about whom I choose to speak to “in confidence” and you should be too!

 

Hope this wasn’t too long. I’m sure you have your own criteria for whom you trust.  But spending some time thinking about how you earn and keep the trust of others is very important as a leader or executive.  Whether on the battle field or in the boardroom, trust is a key aspect of your effectiveness as a leader.  If people don’t trust you, it’s going to be awfully hard to get them on the bus.  There used to be a paper floating about with excerpts from British Navy fitness reports.  One of my favorites was “his men would follow him anywhere, but only out of sheer curiosity.”  Make sure your followers are not just curious, but trusting as well.

PS.  Please excuse my misuse of who and whom. I know I have violated the who or whom rules.  But “Whom Do You Trust” sounds so pretentious.  My old English teachers are all rolling in their graves and I apologize to them.

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Who do you trust? Part One

OK, I know it’s been a while since I sat down and put some thoughts on paper…One of my New Year’s resolutions it to do a better job.  Frankly, for me, writing these articles is a way to organize my thoughts and to vent (but not too much).   And it seems that of late one risks a great deal by exposing one’s thoughts to the universe of tweet-ers, facebook-ers, linked In-ers, and web lurkers, given the apparent lack of tolerance for anything but the most extreme views.  There.  I feel better.

On to “Who do you trust?”  I think it’s a good time to consider this question, especially in light of the “fake” news craze, endless exposure to unverified “Breaking News”, and a Congress seemingly motived by party politics and reelection fever over trust.  I admit that’s harsh, but I’m pretty sure when you make a list of who you trust, your representatives on the Hill won’t be on it.    I really don’t know what to think when I hear our elected representatives constantly using the most extreme superlatives, good or bad, when describing each bit of proposed legislation….It’s either “the most devastating blow to the middle class since the Great Depression” or “historic legislation which will restore the American Dream.”  Really?  Can it be that bad or that good?  I don’t think so and hence, I don’t trust what is being said.

I’m thinking this will be a two-parter….There’s too much to cover in one article, so I will focus on who/what I don’t trust and why in this article.  Tomorrow, I will follow up with who I do trust and why.

First, I encourage you to make your own list of whom you trust and don’t trust.  After you’ve done that write down some reasons why people appear on each list.   Here’s my list:

Airline Flight Status.  Airlines always recommend you check with them before heading to the airport….I’ve yet to check on a flight that still three hours away that says anything but “On Time.” I’m talking about normal operations, no big storms or computer meltdowns in the offing….just an everyday trip to the airport.   So I bop on over to the airport, go through security, check again on flight status (On Time) and head on over to the gate.  I’ve got a nifty app on my phone that lets me see where the airplane is coming from so I can check on it….Lo and behold, my airplane is 30 minutes behind schedule ….but at my gate it still says “On Time.”  If I ask the gate agent, usually I get a “nothing is showing on my system” reply.  Eventually, they have to come clean and the announcement is made that there’s a delay. Now they post a new departure time, usually wildly optimistic, that they have no hope of making….I’d much rather they use technology and post actual status….6 minutes late, or 15 minutes early.  By the way, ever had a delay because the aircrew was late arriving from another flight?  The airlines know that way ahead of time. Why don’t they put a status up that reflects that? I don’t trust ‘em.

Network News.  Ever listen to the Today show?  It always starts off with one of the personalities saying, “BREAKING NEWS!!!  Blah blah blah”.  Gosh, it must be important one would think…But turns out it’s not “Breaking” at all….and it has only a 50% chance of actually being something important.  Why must everything be sensational?  I just want the news, and if nothing big happened today, well I’m OK with that.  My other problem with network news is that they, too, have become slaves to the extremes.  I actually can shape the news I get by choosing which channel to listen to, left or right.  Not sure I know of a middle-of-the-road channel, so I really have to watch several channels to get some sort of balance.  I wind up only watching the sports news, because it’s usually accurate…..Army beats Navy, Redskins lose, etc.  They just haven’t figured out how to fiddle with the scores yet.  (Although I will say that they have figured out a way to tweak election results so sports score tweaking may not be that far behind).  Imagine channel surfing between sports shows to find the scores that you like. “Hey, Navy beat Army on Channel 4!”

Weather Reports.  Apparently actual temperatures are not very news worthy, so weather guessers have invented wind chills and heat factors.  It’s not so interesting to say it’s going to be 15 degrees tonight.  Instead, why not say, “We are going to have serious, life threatening wind chills of minus 5 tonight somewhere is our listening area. Stay tuned as this story develops.” Huh?  Why say “There’s a chance of snow tomorrow” when you can say “I can’t rule out the possibility of over 12 inches of snow and blizzard conditions similar to Antarctica will be here tomorrow because the Manchurian model says so.”  And why are we naming storms which we used to label northeasters except to make them seem as serious as a hurricane so the viewers will “stay tuned”? Since when has a cold spell become a “Bomb?” Everything the weather reporters say always emphasize the extremes.  I’m interested in their best guess about what’s likely to happen, not their speculations on how bad it might be. They seem to be just opposite.

Congress.   It’s all about the extremes over there too.  Apparently, nothing can be solved by compromise, so they have invented ways to ensure the extremes always win (or lose). I get a kick watching coverage over there. It’s always the leadership slinging superlatives right and left while surrounded by 5 or 6 colleagues looking concerned.  I would feel like such a dope standing in the background, nodding my head and furrowing my brow while having absolutely nothing to say.   I always wonder what the stand-arounds are thinking. “Do I look concerned enough?”   “I wonder if they are having meatballs in the cafeteria today?”  “I hope they see me standing here back in the District.”  Who knows what they are thinking?

The Internet.  Anyone can say anything and it’s all recorded, attributable, unrecallable.   Who thinks hitting the “Recall Message” button works?  All it really does is highlight a message so that I want to see what was recalled and try to figure out why.   By the way, as far as email goes, you don’t even have to send it….It’s still there lurking in the drafts folder just as if you hit the “Send” button.  It’s only one fat finger away from being accidently sent.   Heck, Amazon knows what you are going to buy before you buy it and they pre-position your future purchase so you can get it quicker.  We are not that far away from having your thoughts zipping through cyberspace. (By the way, I do trust Amazon to deliver something when they say they will.  Don’t you?)

Factors of non-Trust

I guess I’ve said enough to get me in trouble, but before I leave the subject of non-trust, I thought it might be interesting to think about why things/people show up on the non-trust list.  I’m also interested in what’s on your list.

  • History of being wrong. I guess this one is obvious, but worth a comment.  If you tell me something and it was wrong, I’m probably less likely to trust what you say in the future.  It helps if you come to me and admit you were wrong and to express a desire to be more accurate in the future.  There are plenty of reasons to be wrong, so fess up!  Just remember, I tend to trust people who have a track record of being right.  The weather is usually never as bad as the worst-case scenario pushed by the TV forecaster, so I tend to take what they say with a grain of salt.  By the way, I woke up this morning with a white driveway, yet there was no mention of any precipitation for the next 24 hours.
  • Shifting reality. I don’t trust people or things that seem to change based on convenience, personal benefit, discovery of the truth, or crowd-think.  Airlines know that flights aren’t “on Time” usually well in advance.  Why not say so when they know?  Sure, they eventually are truthful, but only after they have no other option but to be truthful.  People are sorry after they get caught…..not while they are doing illegal or hurtful things.
  • Inward focused. When people are self-focused, saying and doing what’s best for them, not for others, I don’t trust them.  One can usually tell when the “What’s in it for me?”  rule is in effect and I find it hard to trust someone who hasn’t at least considered the consequences of their actions on me and others.
  • Agenda over truthfulness. If I sense that someone is more focused on their own agenda at the expense of being truthful, then I don’t trust them. They frequently are unresponsive to facts, seeking alternate facts (Whatever that means).  This results in a situation where the opinion of others is seldom valued or even considered.  I don’t trust people who develop solutions that haven’t considered all perspectives.  I don’t think that many who seek our trust are intentionally un-truthful.  They may “think” they are being truthful, but because they are so focused on their agenda, they have conveniently overlooked facts which don’t contribute to their version of the truth.  Remember, one can tell the truth without being truthful.
  • Violation of Trust. When you have trusted someone who then wrongly takes advantage of your trust, it will be difficult to ever trust them again. This is the most important factor I consider when determining who to trust.  Have they ever violated my or someone else’s trust?  If so, they wind up at the top of my “Do not Trust” List.

 

It’s useful to spend some time to think about trust and who you do and don’t trust.  More importantly, thinking about why people wind up on one of those lists will serve you well when a new person pops up. What list do you put them on?  Is it possible to change lists? Probably the most important outcome of this little drill is to think about where you fall on other peoples’ lists.  This article was about a list you don’t want to be on and the things which will put you there.    We all want to be trusted, but we must earn that trust by our actions.   Next time, how to be on the “Trusted” list.

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If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It.

I just finished reading this article concerning the Air Force waiting for things to break in their shore if-it-aint-brokeinfrastructure  instead of doing preventative maintenance.  My first thought was, “I sure hope that doesn’t include nukes!!!”  From what I can tell from the article, maybe yes, maybe no.  So that has me a little worried.  But there were several other  things about that article that worried me.

First, it said that the Services only submitted about 80% of what they needed for facilities maintenance because they wanted to put priority on training and operations instead of maintaining their buildings.  I believe the idea was to fix things as they fail.  Who wants to be in a building that might “fail”?  Not me.  I’m puzzled as to why they wouldn’t ask for everything  needed since the money for such things comes from different appropriations than training and operations.  By the way, they got all that they asked for which leaves me wondering what would have happened if they asked for what they really needed.

Second, what makes them think there’s going to be any more money in the out-years to make things right?  If we are deferring maintenance, then it stands to reason that it’s only going to cost more to fix next year.  We already know that money is not going to be there.  Personally, I’m not so sure about jumping on an elevator in an Air Force building knowing that it hasn’t been maintained and the threshold for them to do any maintenance on it is me getting stuck between floors.  I’d also be careful about walking around on an AFB if I were you. You never know when something above might “fail.”

By the way, this is not just an Air Force problem.  Here is a similar article about Navy facilities and infrastructure.  Stunningly, it says that of the 13 barracks at NAS Oceana, 10 of them are rated substandard.  What happened to taking care of our number one asset….our Sailors.  And we only asked for 80% of the money to fix them??

Thirdly, one Commander in the article is worried that money for repair is so short, that even when things break there will not be enough money to fix them.  Little wonder, since they only asked of 80% of what they needed.  I suppose they are hoping for some sort of natural disaster so they can go in for supplemental funding to fix everything.

Waiting for OCO
Waiting for OCO

Once something happens, there will be a feeding frenzy at the supplemental trough to fix not only what was damaged by said disaster, but also stuff that was damaged by neglect.  What a world!

Finally, it says that the Air Force is not planning on returning to “full spectrum readiness” (whatever that means) until 2023.  That must mean they have a plan….but since when has any service been able to stick to a plan more than a couple of years????  Heck, in the Navy, we change the 30 Year Shipbuilding plan just about every year!

As for the using maintenance dollars to buy readiness, I thought that is what the Overseas Contingency money was supposed to do.  Remember the almost $60 Billion in OCO for 2016?  So even as a former practitioner of the mystical and black art of Defense budgeting, I just can’t figure out why we didn’t  ask for all the money we needed to maintain our infrastructure in “war fighting condition.” carriergolf After all, especially in the Air Force, their bases are where they fight wars from…It’s analogous to the Navy’s ships.  I guess the old saying that the Air Force only builds runways after the O”Club, golf course, pool, commissary and exchange are built isn’t true anymore.  I guess now is should be, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  If its broke, good luck getting it fixed!”

I recall reading an article not long after the Berlin Wall fell which said the conditions  in East German bases were puzzling.  The barracks the soldiers were living in were barbaric…..but just across the street, the tanks, personnel carriers, trucks, artillery and lots of other weapons were sitting in pristine condition in air conditioned splendor.  This is what happens when we value things over people.  Hey, recruiting is at an all time high.  We could probably stand a few people jumping ship anyway.  Why not skimp on their facilities so that we can continue to pay for the cost overruns of the JSF and other out-of-control acquisition programs?

On the other hand, I suppose you could say that this problem is yet another symptom of the need for another round of BRAC.  Good luck with that!

Oh, by the way, no facilities were damaged in the writing of this article.

 

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[Non-DoD Source] Sigh…ber Part 2

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….non-dodPersonally, 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.”  truth2  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].

FoundationAnchorLogo  Please help our wounded Sailors and Coast Guardsmen by attending a performance of “A Christmas Carol”, presented by the Little Theater of Alexandria on the evening of December 16th by clicking here.

 

 

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Sigh–ber

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.”

RobotAnd 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.  SF86-doodyBTW 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!!!!!!!!!!blueberry

 

 

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Where is, repeat, where is Task Force Thirty Four?

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 200px-Nimitz_and_Halsey_1943supporting 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:

msg3

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”!!!

cv67_022
Hey, Where did everybody go?

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?”

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PP-BEGone

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.

Theoretical PPBE
Theoretical PPBE

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.

The Reality
The Reality

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.Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 3.38.19 PM

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.

 

 

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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!!!!!!)

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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.

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