The US Department of Defense faces some of the toughest challenges it has experienced in decades. Two opposing budgetary forces are squeezing the department: The topline budget is falling and internal costs are rising.
DoD’s massive overhead, bureaucratic and inefficient acquisition processes, and the runaway life-cycle costs of the all-volunteer force are crowding out funds for military readiness and war fighting.
The nomination of Robert Work to be the deputy secretary of defense provides Secretary Chuck Hagel the opportunity to implement a management model that will steer the department more successfully through these troubled waters.
As the world’s largest, most complex organization, DoD’s success or failure depends on coherent, effective leadership. This starts with the relationship between the secretary and the deputy and how their roles and responsibilities are delineated.
Traditionally, secretaries have used three different management models to lead the department.
■ The alter ego model, where the secretary and deputy do not clearly distinguish their roles, instead prioritizing and assigning issues on an ad hoc basis. Occasionally, each will weigh in on the same issue, but with different perspectives and providing different guidance.
Two secretaries, however, is no bargain. It can confuse and disorganize a bureaucracy that, because of its sheer size and complexity, desperately needs routine management, clarity and structure to properly and effectively function.
■ A policy-oriented deputy. These deputies play a prominent role in the development of policy and operational oversight processes of the department. They might have a significant role in the interagency process. The secretary, though, is usually expected to be the face of the department — he or she doesn’t have time to focus exclusively on the day-to-day management of the department — and by focusing outward, the deputy is merely duplicating the efforts of the secretary. Moreover, many policy matters cannot be delegated to a deputy. If the secretary needs policy support, he or she has an undersecretary for policy.
■ A model that is battle-tested every day in managing large private-sector organizations: the CEO/COO model. It’s sometimes referred to as the Laird/Packard model after it was implemented by Melvin Laird, a former member of Congress from Wisconsin, who served as secretary from 1969 to 1973, and David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, who served as deputy from 1969 to 1971. It does not require a “titan of industry,” and this model has excelled with both industry leaders and deputies with extensive government, management and analytical experience such as Bob Work.
The scope of responsibilities and tight deadlines inevitably means that the secretary leads and the deputy manages. The secretary sets the vision and the deputy makes the trains run on time. The secretary should function as “Mr. Outside,” leading matters related to the department’s interaction with other agencies, current operations, Congress, foreign militaries, the media and the public.
The deputy should be “Mr. Inside,” with a focus on management, budgets, programs, personnel, acquisition, training and readiness, installations and real estate, and the functioning of the defense agencies.
Because many of the department’s biggest challenges are internal, the CEO/COO model is the only one that clearly delineates the roles of the department’s top two leaders and enables the deputy to focus exclusively on internal management. These challenges are so big that they require the undivided attention of the department’s leadership. Neither the alter ego model nor the policy-oriented model provide the kind of hands-on approach that’s necessary.
Hagel and Deputy Secretary-designate Work’s experience and talent are perfectly suited for the CEO/COO model. Hagel has taken the external reins aggressively and gotten out in front of difficult issues. Work’s decades in uniform, supporting key Pentagon civilian leaders, in cogent analytical work and as the chief management officer of the Navy have prepared him to be just as aggressive on the internal issues.
As the Pentagon tightens its belt in a world of increasing threats and instability but decreasing resources, it needs clear, effective management. It needs to obtain more bang for the buck for the dollars that are available. Bob Work can deliver on behalf of the warfighters, the taxpayers and the secretary of defense.
He should stay bolted to his desk, leaving Washington only to visit the troops, focusing his travel in the Pentagon corridors using the time-tested management-by-walking-around-kicking-butt technique. ■
By retired US Marine Corps Maj.or Gen.eral ArnoldPunaro, retired US Marine Corps major general and a former staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee who has chaired or served on numerous panels examining DoD organizations and leadership.