Pentagon Seeks to Make Civilian Agencies More Productive, Efficient

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Washington, DC – The Defense Department is already looking at ways to make its agencies more productive and efficient, the deputy defense secretary told the Defense Writers Group here on Tuesday (April 24).

Patrick M. Shanahan welcomed House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry’s interest in the so-called Fourth Estate. The Texas representative has issued “discussion drafts” of legislation that calls for elimination of some organizations and reforms of others.

Thornberry defines the Fourth Estate as civilian-dominated military agencies such as the Defense Contract Audit Agency, the Defense Information Systems Agency or the Defense Logistics Agency.

“The Fourth estate is an area I have been spending an awful lot of time in,” Shanahan said. He believes there is tremendous opportunity for reform in DoD, he told the defense writers, adding that those reforms would tremendously boost productivity and modernization in the department.

The National Defense Authorization Act called for the creation of a department chief management officer position, and that person – John H. Gibson II – has been leading the effort that gets after reform in the Fourth Estate.

Shanahan said he looks at the Fourth Estate in three different segments: intelligence, acquisition, and business operations such as health care, information technology and so on. “The way I tend to think about it is, ‘How do we restructure ourselves so we can be much more productive and much more responsive?’” he said.

That question has different answers, depending on the segment he said. On the intelligence side, he explained, it boils down to leveraging artificial intelligence to make better decisions with the volumes of information that comes to DoD.

Another organization in the Fourth Estate is the Defense Health Agency, which has hundreds of clinics. “How do we combine them in a way that drives cost down because there is a common procurement system?” he asked.

Six Major Areas

The DoD chief management officer is going after six major areas that need to be re-engineered and consolidated, Shanahan said, noting that the biggest leverage there is real synergy at the DoD level. “Today, we are parsed by service and we are leaving a lot of productivity on the floor,” he said. “We have 10 different ways to do the same thing. These are issues that every large organization runs into.”

In the world of Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, Shanahan said, reform and re-engineering are different, so she needs to understand how to make it easier to do business with the government. It also entails how the department picks the right industrial partners for modernization, he added.

The fact that the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee is also approaching this issue gives support to DoD’s efforts, Shanahan said.

Not a ‘People Problem’

The deputy secretary said he doesn’t want this effort to be viewed as a “people problem” or as a way to reduce the workforce. “There is this assumption that there are all these people standing around with their hands in their pockets and not working hard,” he said. “What we find is we have processes and management systems and [information technology] systems that have evolved over years and years that were never designed to scale to the size that we are, and so people are stuck in processes that … aren’t as productive as they could be.”

The Defense Information Systems Agency has a number of data centers, he noted, and if those are consolidated there will be a reduction in the number of people needed to run them.

“The art form here is, ‘Then what do you do with the benefits?’” he said. “The reason I hesitate to talk about it as a people issue is it is not a people issue. People are the solution, not the problem. From a management standpoint, the easiest thing to do is redraw the lines and boxes on an org chart, but it is actually the hardest thing to implement.”

The department must look at processes, Shanahan said. There needs to be enough people to perform the mission, he added, and then an examination of back-office inefficiencies.

“It’s our processes, not our people,” he said.

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