Presidential transition teams open for business this week at federal agencies to provide for the transition of power to the new administration. 

A prime subject during transition at the Department of Defense is usually how to make the department run more efficiently and effectively.  Each new administration develops its own set of defense management and acquisition improvement reforms aimed at making the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and the Military Services operate better.

The Defense Business Board (DBB) has developed a set of recommendations for the DoD transition team directed at making DoD run more like a “modern business.” The DBB is an authoritative, advisory committee that provides independent advice to DoD’s senior leadership on the use of best business practices and management improvement programs for DoD.

In its report, Focusing a Transition:  Challenges Facing the New Administration, the DBB opines that the defense department is “too costly, too slow and often unable to devote the resources necessary to enhance modernization and readiness.”  The report further states that “without a disciplined effort to rein in costs and overhead, the Department will not only be unaffordable, it will be unable to swiftly and shrewdly adapt to maintain superiority over determined adversaries.”  The goal, the report says, should be to free up more resources for readiness improvement and modernization efforts.

The DBB stresses that the department must develop and aggressively execute an “outcomes-based program of change to overcome bureaucratic inertia.”  The Board argues that “organizations, contracts, activities, etc., must be eliminated.”  It warns against only making marginal piecemeal cuts.  Doing so, the report emphasizes, “leaves the door open for adding them back during the next budget cycle.”  Change must come as a result of “major surgery,” the Board says.

To ensure that tough decisions are made and the whole department is focused on achieving the necessary changes, the DBB argues that the role of the Deputy Secretary of Defense must be redefined.  The Deputy does not pay enough attention to the primary function—managing the department, the report states. The Deputy spends too much time away from the Pentagon representing the Secretary or attending to coordination with other agencies, allies, or the White House.

The DBB strongly recommends that the Deputy must become the department’s Chief Management Officer (CMO) in fact as well as in name because managing the department demands the full-time attention of the CMO.

To this end, the DBB recommends that the Deputy must “drive the Department to continue to shrink overhead.”  As an active Chief Management Office, the report urges the Deputy to: 1) Exert “constant fiscal discipline;” 2) Streamline processes to be “more agile and responsive;” 3) Make speed and cost “valued commodities;” 4) Cut layers of decision making and increase accountability and track performance; 5) Address “an unaffordable health care system and pension benefits;” and 6) Establish metrics and track written goals and objectives for senior leaders.

In addition, the DBB recommends that the department engage in a “zero baseline” effort to identify and eliminate duplicate and redundant functions and capabilities, and the Service Secretaries become an executive committee to support the secretary’s priorities.  The DBB stresses that the department’s civilian and military leaders must “collectively drive tradeoffs that support the Department’s National security priorities, often at cost to their individual organizational priorities.”