DOD faces massive streamlining challenge

Officials laid out the obstacles at AFCEA West

The Defense Department is continuing with efforts to transform into a 21st-century organization, and that will include an overhaul of its numerous business operations systems and processes, and the policies that govern them, according to two top DOD officials.

“A strategic plan is not good if it’s not used – it needs to be meaningful, used as a tool and cascade into a performance plan for the whole organization,” said Elizabeth McGrath, DOD deputy chief management officer.

McGrath, speaking at the AFCEA West conference in San Diego on Jan. 27, said that there are some 7,000 systems in DOD business operations, and the department spends $7 billion a year on business IT.

“The easy answer would be to create another IT program,” McGrath said. “But we’re not going to do that.”

Instead, McGrath said her office is employing Lean Six Sigma business methodology strategies to overhaul and re-engineer DOD business processes.

“This is the first time we’re looking at end-to-end business processes in DOD,” said Dave Wennergren, DOD assistant deputy chief management officer, who also spoke at AFCEA West.

McGrath and Wennergren are also looking at other hurdles to simplification, they said.

“We need to look at inhibitors to change – policies are huge,” McGrath said. As an example, she pointed to the $800 million spent on investigations for hiring and clearing DOD personnel – a process that takes months.

“That’s a policy from the J. Edgar Hoover era,” she said. “No one challenged the status quo of the existing policy, no one ever asked why. They just did what the last guy did.”

McGrath said she is challenging DOD services and agencies to examine their use of new tools and capabilities. “It’s different,” she acknowledged, “but it’s healthy.”

“If you’re on the path of big IT systems, you’re missing the speed and agility and change,” Wennergren added.

While antiquated policies are a significant challenge, so are people and culture, McGrath said.

“You can’t ignore the cultural resistance…but the fact is you have to find a way for people to be part of the solution and not just a speed bump in the way,” McGrath continued.

Increasing trust is also part of addressing the tendency for people to avoid change, and management must be sure to be open with personnel, according to Wennergren.

“Transparency breaks down the barriers of a low-trust environment,” he said.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.

Reader Comments

Sat, Feb 5, 2011

“This is the first time we’re looking at end-to-end business processes in DOD,” said Dave Wennergren, DOD assistant deputy chief management officer. Mr. Wennergren is apparently unaware of the $10 billion Corporate Information Management (CIM) effort the DOD pursued from 1989 to 1999 the last time it decided to re-engineer all its business processes from "factory-to-foxhole." And notwithstanding Ms. McGrath's assurance that "we're not going to create another IT program," that, in fact, is precisely what she and Mr. Wennergren are doing by continuing to support the use of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems as the "solution" to the Department's business-management problems. Oh, but wait - this time they're using "Lean Six Sigma," so everything is going to be fine.

Wed, Feb 2, 2011

Any kind of Streamlining means someone is giving up something....funding, people, authority, space, assets of whatever kind. Until we reward efficiency-gaining actions in a meaning way, we will continue to maintain business processes and IT systems that support those...LSS is a great concept, but hits hard times when those in power really dont want efficiencies...

Wed, Feb 2, 2011 David Land Alabama

Streamlining some tasks within the greater DoD is a must, however Ms. McGrath and Mr. Wennergren are barking up the wrong tree in their attempts to have any meaningful reduction in operating budgets when it comes to conducting clearance investigations. There are so many components to performing this task which REQUIRE human interaction that it almost defies the use of technology. Are there some pieces which can be completed using a network? Certainly there are. But for the most part you just can't do it.

Wed, Feb 2, 2011

Ms McGrath states, “We need to look at inhibitors to change – policies are huge,” McGrath said. As an example, she pointed to the $800 million spent on investigations for hiring and clearing DOD personnel – a process that takes months. “That’s a policy from the J. Edgar Hoover era,” she said. “No one challenged the status quo of the existing policy, no one ever asked why. They just did what the last guy did.”

If by "no one" Ms McGrath meant "no one in government" I would agree. However, if she meant that everyone associated with the security clearance process included defense industry companies, I respectfully disagree. Industry has been "asking why" about the duration and cost of the security clearance process for years, without anyone in government listening. We'll see if things change.

Mon, Jan 31, 2011 Robert Yarush Bagram,Afghanistan

Its about time someone start talking about streamlining the Military / Government / DOD networks. Ive been in Afghanistan and Iraq for 7 years now...a Network Engineer... and have never been so discouraged as the lack of interest in streamlining anything. The military doesnt know what it needs... and they refuse to let those in the know do anything that even remotely looks like streamlining. Its a pitiful shame the amount of redundancy ... the amount of people that require briefings on some of the most mundane of networking tasks. I've not worked in the states as a government contractor... but I hate to think I'll be returning so similar circumstances when I do.

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