WASHINGTON ― How much money is locked inside the five-sided box?
It’s a question Pentagon leadership, outside advocates and members of Congress have been hammering on for years. With about one-sixth of federal spending going to national security, the thinking goes, there must be dollars floating around inside the Pentagon somewhere which could be put to better use.
John “Jay” Gibson II, the first man to sit in the role of chief management officer for the Department of Defense, agrees, and in a May 1 interview with Defense News, he laid out how he hopes to take that funding and reinvest it directly into the so-called pointy end of the spear.
Gibson has set himself the challenge of trying to reform nine key focus areas – information technology, human resources, community services, contracts, real property, testing and evaluation, medical services, logistics and supply, and financial management.
It’s a wide range of issues to tackle, and Gibson is upfront about the fact it’s not something that can be handled from his office alone. Instead, he wants to empower individuals already in the system to identify potential improvements and begin working on them.
“Let’s take people that are subject matter experts from the enterprise, have them lead the team and then populate the team with stakeholders,” he said. “Let them go out and say, ‘I see these opportunities. I know this world. Let me pick projects that I think that we can see benefit from, still aligning to the common goal of creating efficiencies enterprise-wide.’”
Projects are vetted through a governance structure that involves higher-ups signing off on the ideas, and then any savings found are plowed back into building war-fighter capability.
As an example of how this all works, Gibson points to a “simple concept” change in how contracting for medical services is done across the Pentagon. Right now, each service picks and chooses contractors to work with. That will start to change, with the best value contractor selected and used across the board.
“Just in the early stage this next year, we’ll save about $20 million [per year] and then $75 million [per] when we’ve reached full run rate in a couple years,” Gibson said. “If you look at just in year one, that’s about 400 flight hours of an F-35A. At run rate, that’s about 1,500 hours. It supports lethality. That brings those resources back to the services to use.”
While Gibson didn’t want to give hard targets on potential savings, he did say the rough targets outlined for the Pentagon are to find $6 billion in FY19, as part of a broader goal of saving $46 billion over the next five years.
A central plan for getting reforms in all nine of those business areas relies around a broader push for cloud computing, with Gibson stressing that the ability to access and host data from anywhere will reap both short- and long-term benefits for the department.
Putting the data into a cloud that can be reached and accessed from anywhere in the world, rather than the current hodgepodge of various physical locations spread through the department, benefits the Pentagon with both security and cost, Gibson said, as a result of having everything in one place speaking the same language.
“Any time you put it in multiple places, there has to be a translator of that data across different hosting. Every time you have a translator, it’s time and money and risk for error and there’s also a security aspect,” he said.
However, the Pentagon’s big push to the cloud has met early resistance, over concerns from industry that the contract has been rigged as a sole-source project that only Amazon could truly fulfil.
Like other defense officials, Gibson defended the contracting method for the JEDI program, saying “we feel good that what we’re doing is the right way to do it.”
“Everything that we’ve done, it’s full and open competition. As you can imagine, we know this is sensitive so we’ve been hypersensitive as we’ve looked at it from every angle, including the legal execution of the contract and how we structured it,” he added.
For a full Q&A with Gibson, read the May 20 edition of Defense News. The interview will also be online that week.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.