Article Published in the Federal Times
With coalition warfare currently being conducted in the Balkans, it’s a little early to be rendering any definitive judgements on Bill Clinton’s record as commander in chief. But it’s not too early to identify one huge success of the President’s military stewardship since 1993.
The Clinton Administration has done more than any other in modern times to improve the efficiency and professionalism of defense management. Financial controls have been tightened, acquisition policies have been enlightened, and in general the Pentagon is just a better run place than at any time in recent memory.
Management issues tend to get short shrift in the public debate about defense priorities. Congressional leaders and media pundits would rather talk about the great issues of war and peace, such as whether defense resources are adequate to meet overseas commitments or whether modernization is progressing fast enough to maintain America’s military edge.
But disciplined oversight is essential to the effective allocation of defense resources, and if there is one area where the President’s critics have been lacking it is in their apparent unwillingness to study the intricacies of Pentagon management. There probably isn’t a single prominent congressional opponent of Clinton defense policies who could clearly explain the Single Process Initiative, Price Based Acquisition, or the cost-comparison criteria embedded in OMB Circular A-76 – – even though each is critical to equipping and supporting America’s military in the next century.
Maybe it’s naive to expect legislators to have a detailed grasp of management practices, even when they concern a federal agency that spends a quarter of a trillion dollars annually. But when an administration has spent six years systematically dismantling the quasi-socialist defense business culture of the Cold War era and replacing it with market-driven standards and practices, you’d hope the opposition was at least aware of that fact.
That’s especially true considering that so many of the President’s critics profess to be free marketeers. For some reason (usually vote related), a fair number of these critics who laud market forces in their pronouncements on economic policy suddenly become skeptics of the marketplace whenever the administration proposes outsourcing non-core military functions to the private sector.
They also are standing in the way of administration efforts to close more military bases, even though the Pentagon estimates that about 23% of its infrastructure is redundant. The prevailing view among Clinton’s congressional critics is that he politicized the 1995 round of closures on the eve of a national election by favoring bases in two big states (California and Texas), so he can’t be trusted to oversee more base reviews.
What a convenient conclusion for legislators who don’t want to see facilities in their states and districts threatened. It’s a little hard to believe that the nation’s leading legislative strategists can’t come up with statutory language to prevent the politicization of future base-closure rounds. Could it be because Clinton’s supposed misfeasance in 1995 is just a pretext for avoiding hard choices?
Denis Bovin, Vice Chairman of Bear, Stearns & Company and a long-time Pentagon advisor on strategic management issues, captures the irony of the current situation: “If you believe our forces in the field are underfunded and that the government wastes too much money on nonessential items, then you should be a backer of more base closures.” Bovin estimates that additional rounds could save almost $4 billion annually – – nearly enough to build an aircraft carrier.
Of course, even without politics there is still much room for improvement in defense management. Retired Army Lieutenant General John Moellering, President of Lear Siegler Services and another long-time Pentagon advisor, points out that it takes years to outsource military support services like maintenance and data processing, and that the process is frequently impeded by poor cost visibility and bureaucratic resistance on the government’s side.
But compared with where it was a decade ago, Pentagon management has come a long way. It really is a case study in reinventing government, not to mention implementing some of the key principles of the Reagan Revolution. It’s too bad so few people outside the Pentagon realize what has been achieved.
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