One Olympics Ends, Another Begins

The Defense world is all atwitter at the upcoming peek at the DoD 2015 budget that Secretary Hagel will be giving today and thus kicking off a new round of olympic games, the Budget Olympithon (let’s just call it the Bolympics), which will most likely last until at least Christmas.  After two weeks of the NBC olympi-blitz I was growing just a bit weary of yet another human interest story.  Unfortunately never-ceasing “breaking news” about the olympics will be replaced with never-ceasing “breaking news” about the DoD budget for the next 8 months .  I know I sound a bit cynical, but after scanning the copious quantities of DoD budget-related news this morning I had to sigh.  I am always fascinated at the obsession of the press with the “Winners and Losers” angle.  Given the huge barrel of bucks residing in the Pentagon coffers it’s hard to picture a loser.  My experience is that there are big winners and some not so big winners and then the rest of the pack.  Ironically the winners are generally the ones who deserve to win the least, while the solid performers wind up paying the bills.  It’s the ultimate penally for being good–they take your money to reward another program for being bad.  Particularly interesting given the recent “focus” on ethics and truth-telling at DoD.  Let me see…”Rob the poor to pay the rich?”  Did I get that right?

Anyway, there is huge swirl around the DoD budget this year and SECDEF Hagel will increase the vorticity today at 1PM EST as he divulges the worst kept secret in DC-The DoD Budget.  Already we know it will basically ignore sequestration and come in around $496 Billion with $30 Billion or so in war costs, plus another $26 Billion in “unfounded”….. oooppsss,  I mean “unfunded” requirements (see Kids in the Grocery Store Checkout Aisle).  Your losers: Less Army, less Marines, less ships, less airplanes, less ground vehicles, less commissary subsidies, more TRICARE premiums, less compensation, fewer overseas bases, less of this and less of that.  Your winners: Less JSFs but at higher cost (odd how that is considered a winner isn’t it?), more ethics, more readiness, more American-made flags flying over our bases and more technology investments.  There are a few that I have a hard time placing in a category: Like a pay freeze for top brass (already the most richly compensated group in DoD, especially considering the fact that many of the top guys will actually make 10-15%  or more more in retirement than on active duty). But alas, we all have to make sacrifices, don’t we? Or how about the National Defense Strategy itself?  It’s hard to see where the money for the shift to Asia-Pacific region ( a major part of the strategy) resides in the budget. Are they winners or losers? Only our panel of Bolympic judges (sometime known as Congress) can tell.

I also am fascinated  by the disconnect between the concern by leadership to be ethical and the budget submission.  The happy talk is that people are DoD’s most important resource, yet that’s where a big chunk of cuts are placed.  I’m not talking about reducing the number of people, but all the other promises that were, oh so easy to make,  when we were at war…like Tricare benefits, commissary subsidies, robust training funds, and a few more.  Compared to the waste in the procurement system, the money spent on those programs is not significant, yet that’s where the focus goes.  What’s ethical about that?    So in my mind,  when the smoke clears here’s the message I hear:  The outstanding day-to-day performance of our people is DoD’s most important asset, so let’s cut that funding so we will have money to pay for our poorly performing programs like JSF or Enterprise Resource Planning IT systems.

So get ready for the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat!  I predict there’s going to be a lot more agony that thrill in the Bolympics this year.

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Mini Cooper or Lamborghini: What should you drive?

I feel compelled to react to acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine Fox’s remarks yesterday regarding the questionable combat capability of the Navy’s controversial Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). Her views are that the threats to surface ships are so great that we ought not invest in them, especially the less capable LCS. Instead we should put our bucks in submarines (to the tune of about $2 Billion apiece) and other “enablers” like Electronic Warfare capabilities. She’s obviously been bitten by the Sub Bug! The facts are that we simply can’t afford the high-end “Lamborghinis” in the quantity necessary to make a difference in an uncertain peace or war. The idea behind the LCS was not to be a part of a “Main Battle Force” going toe-to-toe with some imagined foe of the future (The Chinese I assume), but instead the LCS was part of an “engagement” fleet, capable of operating in areas where US presence makes a difference. Frankly I’m as much surprised by her remarks in their timing as in their substance.
Ask yourself if you think we are likely to become involved in some sort of major world conflict between superpowers anytime in the next few decades. That’s where we need high-end ships like carriers and submarines, and frankly they are so potent that we don’t’ need that many of them. I think a rational person would say that our future, at least in this century, is  building relationships in key areas, South America, Africa and the Asian Pacific. This is exactly what the LCS was designed for. They too, are the enablers that Ms. Fox stresses the need for.
And then there’s the question of numbers. Imagine yourself standing on the beach of an emerging democracy somewhere in the littoral. What’s going to give you a better sense that America is supporting you, a black SSN sail and a rudder sticking our of the water  a couple of thousand yards off the coast or an LCS, a couple of hundred yards off the coast?
The latest flights of Arleigh Burke destroyers cost north of $1 Billion; Zumwalt destroyers well above $3 Billion, Virginia Class submarines around $2 Billion and the granddaddy of them all, $10-12 Billion for an aircraft carrier. While I love the capability, they just aren’t focused on what we need and can afford. We are likely to become a Navy of 100 ships if we focus our investments on the high-end. LCS is compromise between capability and cost. We have to think about both.
So I’m confused. DEPSECDEF says surface ships are vulnerable, but supports the biggest of them all, an aircraft carrier. She says enablers are important, but fails to support a key enabler, the LCS. The sad fact is that while we all want lots of submarines and other high-end capabilities, we can’t afford them all.  It’s too easy to get enamored of the high-end when one sits in the Pentagon day after day where the predisposition is to go BIG and fancy.  It’s where the money is, but money for whom?  We need a reasonable balance, focused on likely threats. It is indeed a balance between capability on cost.

There’s nothing wrong with buying a Mini when your goal is to zip around, parking in unlikely places and have a little fun while doing it.  That’s why you get it.  When you have a Lamborghini, you park it in a deserted area of the parking lot, if you drive it at all.  You impress the rich who can afford one, but insult the poor who can not.  A wise person keeps both in the garage, and drives the one appropriate for the situation.

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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.

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