Since Sept. 11, the Defense Department has worked literally around the clock to transform its frontline forces to better target irregular foes and wage counterinsurgency campaigns.
However, transforming how the Pentagon spends money and manages its back office remains a losing battle, according to the Government Accountability Office.
In a report this month, the GAO found that while the DoD is working to implement its plans to organize and streamline the very systems it uses to run the defense bureaucracy, it’s falling short. While the GAO report is focused on the business systems used by the Pentagon, it is an important subject because these are the very tools used to make decisions involving more than half a trillion dollars a year in taxpayer money. If the IT systems themselves are not up to snuff, it will be hard to enact the kind of oversight and management that is expected today.
“DOD continues to develop content for its business enterprise architecture, such as business rules, and is proceeding with efforts to extend the architecture to its components,” the GAO wrote in the report. “However, even though DOD has spent more than 10 years and at least $379 million on its business enterprise architecture, its ability to use the architecture to guide and constrain investments has been limited by, among other things, the lack of a detailed plan.”
Ultimately, big changes are more about people than technology. In this case, the GAO report found that the Pentagon office in charge of overhauling business systems “has not used a documented, fact-based, data-driven methodology to assess needs and existing capabilities, nor has it performed a gap analysis of the number of staff required and the specific skills and abilities needed to effectively achieve its mission of leading and enabling end-to-end integration and improvement of business operations in support of national security.”
One of the main challenges for Pentagon civilian and military leaders in the coming years is actually twofold. A bureaucracy used to a decade of steady budget growth and strong political support must become thrifty. The Defense Department also must improve its fiscal credibility as the government department charged with the biggest slice of discretionary spending.
Inefficiency of any kind is bad for government, taxpayers and the defense industry. It fuels the Pentagon’s most vocal critics and undercuts even ardent supporters.
Worse, just like companies in any business can take on the worst traits of their mainstay customers, the same is true in the defense realm. Meetings beget meetings and paperwork can indeed dominate the day. When that happens, strategic aims get lost in the shuffle.
With U.S. forces coming home from Afghanistan and budget pressure increasing by the day, the Pentagon cannot afford to waste one of its most precious resources: time.