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.

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