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 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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[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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Service, Sacrifice and the Luxury of Choice

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.FoundationAnchorLogo

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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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C’mon Brian!!!

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.  pinocHopefully, 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.  c6544c81a6fa091e8344de514919a8d4In 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.

C’mon Brian

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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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Leading and Following

I always hesitate to comment on such matters, but after reading the article by the Associated Press lead-follow buttonsregarding the relief of 16 Air Force officers involved in some fashion with nuclear weapons I decided I would offer a few thoughts.  My nose was already tweeked this morning after watching the “victory” speech by Virginia Senate candidate Mark Warner (as I write this, the race is still not decided, by the way) in which he says something about how the voters of Virginia have spoken and put him in the Senate…well, (very) slightly over half the voters in Virginia thought he was the best candidate…..I would be careful about yakking about mandates and the like with only a few votes more than the other guy.  To me the mandate is to be just as diligent about representing the other half of the Virginia voters as he is in representing the half that voted for him.  But as soon as he gets back on the Senate floor, he will do what all politicians do…..follow his leader.    So it occurred to me that in general, politicians are followers, not leaders.  They follow the will of their party, they follow the polls, they follow the money.  Very few of them actually lead.  Heck, even Speaker Boehner is as much a follower (to desires of tea party interests and the like) as is a leader.  And don’t get me wrong, I’m OK with that. They are supposed to be followers, aren’t they?……following the will of the people they represent.  They also tend to make lots of mischief when they “lead”.

In the military we expect everyone to be a leader to some extent and as one gets more senior, our expectations of them as a leader grow.  I’ve been to a few leadership seminars in my day and I know all the various combinations and permutations of this concept:

  • Leaders lead
  • A good leader knows how to be a good follower
  • Lead, follow or get out of the way
  • The scenery only changes for the lead dog of the pack
  • Servant leadership….A good leader is a servant to all
  • It’s good to be the King
  • All glory is fleeting (One of Gen. Patton’s favorite sayings)*
*( Or if you prefer,  Napoleon’s take:  Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever!)

And as a Three Star in the Pentagon I was always reminded that no matter how high and mighty you think you might be, there’s always someone above you to whose tune you must dance! In the end, everyone works for somebody, don’t they?

FishBack to the nuke thing.  One thing I knew as an Attack Squadron Commanding Officer: The quickest way to be relieved without question was to  score anything other than  an outstanding on nuke inspections. Consequently, I put my absolute best officers and enlisted personnel in those positions.  I assume the same is true in the Air Force, so that the absolute best must be assigned nuclear positions.  In that business, there is no room for error. Obviously some house cleaning was needed and the Air Force leadership did what they had to do.

The Navy also frequently makes the news for relieving  various leaders for all sorts of reasons.  I liked the way a former boss of mine, Admiral Vern Clark, used to answer questions about excessive reliefs of Commanding Officers.  He said the Navy sets the bar high for its Commanding Officers, holds them absolutely accountable for not only their own actions, but the actions of all under his/her command, and we make no apologies for that.  Amen.

Leadership is about accountability…accountability to your seniors,  accountability to those who work for you and those who you work with.  All too frequently politicians tend to be accountable to the wrong people or things….big money donors, party leadership, special interest groups, etc.  That’s another reason why they don’t necessarily make good leaders. (Yes there are some notable exceptions  and I am not suggesting that ALL politicians are not good leaders, but work with me here!)

So I propose that accountability is why we are blessed with so many good leaders in our Armed Forces.  So next time you read about someone in the military being held accountable, you should say to yourself, “That’s a good thing.”

But…..problems arise when the “followers” become the leaders….either because of their control of the purse strings or worse, because they fill a void left by leaders more interested in  following than leading.  Civilian control of our military is one of the fundamental principles of our democracy and I wholly endorse the concept.  Nothing distresses me more than when I hear someone from the Hill say that if our military wants it, then it must be good. After all, militaries fight great wars but they are not all that great at making policy.  They are only one of the instruments of national power (economic, diplomatic, informational, and military)  that the US can bring to bear.  All too often they tend to discount the value of other types of power because investments in them take money away from Defense coffers.  To be fair here, there is a great deal of writing on the use of other instruments of power in military doctrine, but I submit it is mostly theoretical and when money is at stake, all the rhetoric  goes out the window.  According to our Constitution, our political masters are the ones to make those judgments.  But our military also has an obligation to make sure their best advice is given to the “deciders.” Once they make a decision, the military’s job is to salute smartly and carry out the decisions.

It is a fine line, and I have the greatest respect for those in senior leadership positions who have the moxie to advise what they believe, not what they think their political masters believe.  It can cost a career.  Look what happened to Army Chief of Staff General Shinseki when he disagreed with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld  on the number of troops required to tame Iraq (in the end the General  was right, but never played the “I told you so” card)?  He was shown the door to the River Entrance at the Pentagon!  Can we ever really succeed in Syria without putting some number of troops on the ground? Will Afghanistan implode if we pull all our troops out?  Can we still have the world’s most capable military with sequestration?  I admire those who give sincere,  apolitical answers to these questions.  But then again they are leaders! Beware those who do otherwise.

 

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