Military to Focus on Ethics

It seems as if every time I read the Defense press over the last few weeks there has been something about ethics, leadership, scandal or illegal activity.  So I’m not surprised that the CJCS should say that the issue of ethics in the military has his “full attention.”  General Dempsey’s staff says that the focus on ethics is not due to any of the recent issues (right…..), but rather the result of a natural rhythm of post-war transition.  I guess that means that since we are pulling out of Afghanistan and still licking our wounds from Iraq (even as it inevitably sinks back into lawlessness) we can now focus on the ethical behavior of our military leaders, regardless of rank.  That’s good news.  Who can find fault with efforts to make the military “more ethical?”  I hope that there is not some radical swing of the pendulum, (as DoD tends to do) so that the goal of such training is to produce some sort of Super Citizen that upholds the values and ethics ( of their choosing) for an American society incapable of doing so on its own.  Don’t get me wrong.  Everyone who choses to serve in uniform is a Super Citizen in my book, but not to the exclusion of countless others who serve our nation in many ways.  Beware an elitist military corps who sees themselves as the only keeper of the ethical flame!

I was amused at one example of new “ethical” training in the article that says teams are being dispersed to discuss with 3 and 4 star officers the meaning of the ethics regulations and what they can and can not do.  Last time I checked the rules were clear enough to me and the JAG officers who always advised me.  3 and 4 star officer who can not understand them or ignore them shouldn’t be re-trained, but re-leased!

One’s ethics is a product of one’s upbringing.  For the first 18 years of life it’s not the responsibility of DoD, but of parents, teachers, neighbors and even friends.  I  agree with Hillary Clinton that it does indeed “Take a Village”  to produce responsible and ethical citizens.  I hope the training that DoD is providing recognizes that fact and that we can’t make someone ethical overnight.  In the end I’m not sure I would want to work for a leader who was completely “ethical’, but rather one who is a decent person, striving to do the right thing for the right reasons and not a robotic ethics machine that understands the difference between axiological ethics and deontological ethics.

   Send article as PDF   

Cheating Nukes

CheatingThe fact that half the officers with the Nuclear Keys at Malmstrom AFB appear to be connected in some way to the emerging exam cheating scandal gives me the heebie-jeebies. SECAF James is admirably stepping up to get things turned around. This article in AF Times says SECDEF Hagel and SECAF James are convening the inevitable commission to admire the problem. Among other things they are going to consider are cultural issues, differences between testing and training, accountability, professional training, core values, incentives, WOW!
But I don’t think these folks decided to cheat or permit those who do to be counted among their rank since they joined the Air Force. Can a dishonest person be trained to be honest? I recall a Seinfield episode in which George was confronted by his boss about an incident of making woopie with the maid in the office. “Was that wrong?” asked George, “because if I had known, I would not have done it.” I shudder to think that one of the nuclear officers may have had a similar reaction. My contention is that these officers just didn’t decide to cheat on the nuclear exam on a whim. They were just going about their day-to-day activities without thinking. In his book “The Screwtape Letters”, C.S. Lewis describes the mentoring of a young devil under training, Wormwood, by his Uncle Screwtape, a member of the Senior Devil Service (SDS). The young trainee is having trouble getting his “patient” (victim) to turn to the dark side. He asks Uncle Screwtape what big event can he orchestrate. Screwtape replies that he’s not interested in big events. “The road to Hell is a gradual one.”
I’m sure the accused at Malmstrom are all decent people, but somewhere, sometime long ago they started a “gradual descent” that hopefully will be arrested and corrected by the efforts of Air Force leadership. But let’s not kid ourselves. Morals, ethics, and accountability need to be nurtured from our first gasp out of the womb, to our last gasp on the battlefield, not in a seminar for adults who hold the keys to the nuclear kingdom.

   Send article as PDF   

Leadership: What Works!

There has been a lot about leadership in the news lately (Check out yesterday’s comments).  I read this morning in the Army Times about one retired general’s efforts to improve his post-military image by hiring an image consultant!  I would rather focus on what’s going right and hope, that in doing that, we could actually fix what is going wrong.  One thing is for sure:  You should spend your time fixing those things you already know are wrong before trying to figure out what else is wrong.  Federal agencies and companies spend lots of time and money on conducting employee surveys and subsequently “admiring” the problem, but I believe those that actually take serious actions on what they find are few.  I ran across an Best Places to Work 2014 about the Federal agencies that consistently score high in the best places to work in government and why.  Take some time to scan it and you will find something that  you can do differently to enhance your leadership skills.

   Send article as PDF   

Promoting Abusive Leaders

TruthBig blurb in the Post this morning, but I’m not sure it’s “news.”  Some of our most legendary leaders could probably be characterized as “abusive”, but generally (pardon the pun!) they were abusive to knuckleheads and fiercely loyal to those who did their jobs.  We can all name a few folks who seemed to have forgotten that they were promoted to senior ranks not by the sheer force of their personality, but by the deeds and actions of those who worked for them.  When that happens the system almost always gets it right and fixes the problem.  Usually the abusive leaders wind up stewing in their own juices.  Maybe the real headline is not that there are more abusive leaders these days, but more knuckleheads!

On a serious note, there’s no room in our Armed Forces for abusive leaders who belittle their subordinates (for any reason), take advantage of their position for personal gratification or profit, or forget to acknowledge the sacrifice  and hard work of others that enabled their promotion.  I hope the take-away is not that the ranks of our Armed Forces are filled with abusive leaders, but that the system identifies and removes the limited number who exist.  It’s a long article, so here’s the link.  Let me know what you think!

Pentagon investigations point to military system that promotes abusive leaders


   Send article as PDF   

Pentagon Wish List

I saw this article in Bloomberg News  on the Pentagon Wish List this morning.  In my days in the Pentagon we always had an unfunded list to share with the Hill.  Inevitably, the day after the President’s Budget was submitted the Hill was asking for the list.  Back then we didn’t share with OSD.  It was all part of the strategy.  There was the regular budget submission (those things that everyone wanted), the Gold Watch list (things we left out but were sure to be included  in law because of Hill support) and the Unfunded list (those things we really wanted but OSD didn’t want us to have).  It was quite a complicated process to get the budget submitted without offending someone!!  Looks like OSD has taken control. I wonder if the Services might have a “secret” wish list?????

Pentagon to Outline How It Would Spend an Additional $26 Billion

By Tony Capaccio January 27, 2014

The Pentagon’s budget plan for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 will outline how it would spend an additional $26 billion if Congress could find the money, according to U.S. officials.

The White House Office of Management and Budget last week directed the Pentagon to produce the what-if list as part of an “investment fund” it would include when President Barack Obama’s proposed budget is submitted to Congress on March 4.

The Pentagon would present the fund to demonstrate its priorities if more money were added to what was allocated in last month’s congressional budget deal, one of the officials said. The wish list could include weapons, base maintenance, projects to improve readiness or research programs, according to the officials, who asked not to be identified in advance of the budget release.

The White House will say in its budget presentation that the additional money would be offset by cuts in mandatory domestic spending and revenue increases, the officials said.

The “investment fund” is similar to the “unfunded priorities lists” the military services would submit to the House Armed Services Committee for years until then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates discouraged the practice.

The fiscal 2015 total for base defense spending, excluding war operations, is about $498 billion, about $43 billion less than the total projected by the Pentagon last year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tony Capaccio in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at


   Send article as PDF   

Federal Financial Shared Services

I attended the AGA Federal Shared Services Summit last week and came away thinking there is still a lot of work to do.  This is a case of “the spirit is willing but the body is weak.”  There is no doubt that agencies must move to a shared services model in order to make ends meet in the current fiscal environment, but the devil is in the details.  What is the motivation for agencies to become Shared Service Providers?  Is it the prospect of more money?  And why would an agency want to cede control of its financial system to another agency? I have experienced these questions in my not-for-profit life as we have tried to control “back office” costs.  It was ultimately a question of survival.  Without sharing back office functions, we would not survive.  In the case of a government agency, they will continue to survive, so where is the motivation to go to the shared services model?  I believe there needs to be clear incentives for agencies to make the shift and I don’t see them… least not yet.


   Send article as PDF