Military Brass Buries $125 Billion in Bureaucratic Waste

Posted by:

In yet another disturbing example of wasteful government spending, the Washington Post reports that the Pentagon brass covered up an internal study suggesting that the military could save $125 billion in bureaucratic waste within 5 years:

The Pentagon has buried an internal study that exposed $125 billion in administrative waste in its business operations amid fears Congress would use the findings as an excuse to slash the defense budget, according to interviews and confidential memos obtained by The Washington Post.

Pentagon leaders had requested the study to help make their enormous back-office bureaucracy more efficient and reinvest any savings in combat power. But after the project documented far more wasteful spending than expected, senior defense officials moved swiftly to kill it by discrediting and suppressing the results.

The report, issued in January 2015, identified “a clear path” for the Defense Department to save $125 billion over five years. The plan would not have required layoffs of civil servants or reductions in military personnel. Instead, it would have streamlined the bureaucracy through attrition and early retirements, curtailed high-priced contractors and made better use of information technology.

Needless to say, the White House was quick to respond arguing that the report – Transforming DoD’s Core Business Processes for Revolutionary Change –  was readily available to “anyone with a Web browser at the Pentagon website” since January, 2015.

govt_waste

With an annual budget of approximately $600 billion, $125 billion is not exactly pocket-change, even for politicians who prefer to propose one trillion dollar infrastructure spending plans.

A large portion of these “bureaucratic savings” could well be applied to modernizing our armed forces and provide better equipment and training to men and women in uniform.  In fact, the Perfumed Princes on the E-Ring reportedly preferred to hide these inefficiencies from the public so that the “savings” could be applied to new programs.

While it is clear that the internal study (McKinsey & Co.) exists, it is not evident that the recommendations are “owned” by military leaders and are currently being implemented.  After all, it has been almost two years since the plan was published.  What I would like to see is a progress report to determine what concrete steps have been taken to implement McKinsey & Co.’s recommendations.

Having been subjected to many McKinsey studies in my prior corporate life, it is reassuring to see that the presentation format and buzzwords haven’t changed much in over 30 years.  Frankly, many of these studies are sponsored by “change agents”  who have little confidence in the managers responsible for the efficiency of the organization.

Implementing these changes effectively means ridding the organization of embedded staff and consultants that account for a large percentage of these bureaucratic costs.  There are not many “leaders” (corporate or military) willing to act on these well-meaning recommendations when the lives of friends and acquaintances are on the line.

While it may seem politically fashionable to use the alleged cover-up to draw attention to yourself on Capitol Hill, the current and new administration would do well to implement many of the recommendations rather than confine the study to a circular file (i.e. garbage can).   Sadly, I am not convinced that the Military Brass will do so unless both Congress and the new Administration hold their feet to the fire.

Specifically, a “Project Manager” should be identified and appointed for each major component of the Bureaucratic Waste Recommendations and quarterly reports should be made publically available to assess progress.

The U.S. military budget accounts for some 54% of discretionary spending by the government and represents 37% of worldwide military expenditures.

military budget and discretionary spending

$125 billion is a lot of inefficiency that could be better redeployed modernizing our military and allocated to other needy government programs.

Expecting the same military people who have created these inefficiencies to improve productivity is, in my opinion, a fool’s errand.

0

VA Care for Patients with PTSD

Posted by:

As military service members deployed in Iraq begin come home, the alarm bells are beginning to sound as the Veterans Administration (“VA”)  now seems over-stretched to deal with alarming number of cases of service members with PTSD.

According to a recently published Rand study, excerpts of which are reported  by Health Affairs, “There is a large and growing population of veterans with severe and complex general medical, mental, and substance use disorders including schizophrenia, bipolar I disorder, PTSD, and major depression. Substance use disorders may occur alone or in combination with any of these other diagnoses. Over the five-year study period, the population of veterans with mental and substance use disorders grew by 38.5 percent, with the largest growth occurring in veterans receiving care for PTSD. Half of the veterans with mental and substance use disorders also had a serious medical disorder. Study veterans also accounted for a much larger proportion of health care use and costs than their representation among all veterans receiving VA health care. “

The sad reality is that this report is based on statistics compiled by Rand for 2007 and, as such, the severity of the problem is likely to be far greater for veterans with additional deployments past 2007.

As Jason Ukman of the Washington Post reports, “the cost of medical care for veterans is expected to skyrocket in coming years.”   According to sources referred to by Mr. Ukman, “The number of veterans seeking mental health services has increased sharply. Last year, more than 1.2 million veterans were treated by the VA for mental health problems. In fiscal year 2004, the figure was roughly 654,000. The largest increase has been among veterans diagnosed with PTSD.”

The severity of this problem is already taxing over-stretched VA resources and is likely to increase as  troops in combat zones return home.  How we deal with these troubled warriors will say much about our military and political leadership.

1

Facebook brings the Afghan war to Fort Campbell

Posted by:

The Washington Post reports how social media and instant communications are rapidly changing the way the military community learns of events that happen halfway around the world. 

Highlights:

  • At  Fort Campbell, Kentucky Emily Franks was playing with her toddler when a soldier called from Afghanistan with devastating news. A massive roadside bombing had killed five soldiers from her husband’s 120-man infantry company. The soldier was calling Franks, who was at the center of a wives’ support network, in violation of a military-imposed communications blackout on the unit. Using an Afghan cellphone, he told Franks that her husband was safe, but that the company commander was probably dead.
  • Franks’s cellphone beeped. Kitty Hinds, the company commander’s wife, was calling. “I gotta go,” Franks told the soldier. She was sure that Hinds was going to tell her that her husband had been killed. Hinds, however, was oblivious to the events 7,000 miles away in Afghanistan. It was a perfect afternoon and she was driving her three boys home from baseball camp. Franks struggled to mask the dread in her voice. Her pulse raced as she said goodbye. “It was horrid,” she recalled. “Absolutely horrid.” To ensure that a service member’s family does not receive the news of a death by e-mail, phone or an errant Facebook posting, the military temporarily shuts down Internet access to deployed units that suffer a fatality. In today’s era of ever-present connections, such blackouts are rarely enough to cut off the flow of information.
  • Only hours after the explosion on Monday, June 7, the news that something terrible had happened spread among the three dozen wives of Gator Company through social-media sites and text messages. Worried spouses called the battalion’s rear-detachment headquarters at Fort Campbell, searching for news. They posted prayers on Facebook. They scoured the Internet for scraps of information about their husbands’ fates. With each successive year of war, new technologies and social-media sites have narrowed the distance between the home front and the frontlines. In the early days of the Afghan war – before Facebook existed – troops typically e-mailed home a few times a week. They called even less frequently. Today spouses and troops, based in even the most remote areas of Afghanistan, can trade messages and phone calls dozens of times a day. In good times, the minute-by-minute status updates provide peace of mind.
  • In moments of crisis, the connectivity can make the looming possibility of death seem almost suffocating. The spouses jump with each phone call. Ringing doorbells spark tremors of terror. Franks and her husband, Michael, had already weathered a tough Iraq tour in 2008. She thought she knew what it was like to live with the anxiety of having a love one deployed in a dangerous place. On June 7, she would learn how much had changed in just two years.

SFTT Analysis:

  • The forgotten front of the war is the homefront – a daily battle filled with dread for  every family that has a loved one deployed .  Share this.
1

Medics Improvise to save lives on killing fields of Afghanistan

Posted by:

In a compelling story published today by the Washington Post, “Military medics combine ultramodern and time-honored methods to save lives on the battlefield” of Afghanistan.

Key Highlights:

  • At 6:09 p.m., Dustoff 57 has just left this base deep in Taliban-infiltrated Kandahar province, headed for a POI, or point of injury. Somewhere ahead of the aircraft is a soldier who minutes earlier stepped on an improvised explosive device, the signature weapon of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. All the helicopter crew knows is that he’s “category A” – critical.  The trip out takes nine minutes.  Fifteen minutes have now passed since the soldier was wounded. Speed, simplicity and priority have always been the hallmarks of emergency medicine. The new battlefield care that flight medics and others on the ground practice takes those attributes to the extreme.
  • Four people run to the helicopter with the stretcher holding the wounded soldier. He lies on his back partially wrapped in a foil blanket. His chest is bare. In the middle of it is an “intraosseous device,” a large-bore needle that has been punched into his breastbone by the medic on the ground. It’s used to infuse fluids and drugs directly into the circulatory system when a vein can’t be found. It’s a no-nonsense technology, used occasionally in World War II, that fell out of favor when cheap and durable plastic tubing made IV catheters ubiquitous in the postwar years. Until they were revived for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, intraosseus devices were used almost exclusively in infants whose veins were too small to find. On each leg the soldier has a tourniquet, ratcheted down and locked to stop all bleeding below it. These ancient devices went out of military use more than half a century ago because of concern that they caused tissue damage. Now every soldier carries a tourniquet and is instructed to put one on any severely bleeding limb and not think of taking it off.
  • Tourniquets have saved at least 1,000 lives, and possibly as many as 2,000, in the past eight years. This soldier is almost certainly one of them. They’re a big part of why only about 10 percent of casualties in these wars have died, compared with 16 percent in Vietnam.  On the soldier’s left leg, the tourniquet is above the knee. The tourniquet on his right leg is lower, below the knee; how badly his foot is injured is hard to tell from the dressings. His left hand is splinted and bandaged, too. Whether he will need an amputation is uncertain. The hospital where he’s headed treated 16 patients in September who needed at least one limb amputated. Half were U.S. soldiers, and the monthly number has been climbing since March.
  • After three minutes on the ground, the helicopter takes off.  Eleven minutes after lifting off from the POI, the helicopter lands at the so-called Role 3, or fully equipped, hospital at Kandahar Airfield, about 30 miles to the east of the also well-fortified Forward Operating Base Wilson. There, surgeons will take care of the injuries before transferring the patient, probably within two days, to the huge military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, and there, after a week or so, to the United States. It’s been 28 minutes since the helicopter left Forward Operating Base Wilson.

SFTT Analysis:

  • Before every Grunt leaves the wire, they want to know if air or artillery support is readily available and more importantly, if required, will an aerial medevac be responsive – in Joe speak “Time on Target for Air and Arty and a quick Nine-line medevac request . . . how quick will the angels of mercy get here?”.   Quick means quick, the sooner the better obviously, since every minute counts.  Secretary Gates figured this out when he began his battlefield circulation tours in Afghanistan when he became Secretary of Defense and quickly realized that the “Golden Hour”, that period in time that is the standard from time of request for a medevac to arrival at the point of injury and back to medical care on a base, was not being met in Afghanistan due to lack of medevac resources and the distant out-posts that troopers were operating from.  Secretary Gates made it a personal mission to close the gap and ensure that troopers were supported by the “Golden Hour” standard and personally kept the pressure on logistics planners to increase medevac resources and establish medical unit facilities in support of all forward deployed personnel.   The only question SFTT raises regarding this issue is why did it take the Secretary of Defense to correct this situation?  
  • The Washinton Post online article provides a remarkable photo gallery,  – of note is:
    • the destructive nature of an IED that targeted a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP).  The simplicity of a pressure plate device loaded with hundreds of pounds of fertilizer (and other components) can defeat US “resistant” vehicles.  More telling is that a device of this size takes time and local support to emplace;
    • grunts not wearing all of their protective gear – no throat, deltoid, or groin protectors – obviously a commanders call, but is the decision not to wear the complete armor suite because of weight and comfort?;
    • the chinstrap for the Advanced Combat Helmet is a flimsy strap of material – no chin pads are provided and the harness is simply used to hold the “brain bucket” in place.  At least the trooper is being medevaced for treatment of a possible TBI.
0

What Budget Cuts? Massive Military Trade Show in DC

Posted by:

The Washington Post reports on a 

Key Highlights:

  • Walk around the trade show floor and you’ll find the usual big-name defense contractors at their booths. BAE had outfitted an MRAP (mine-resistance, ambush protected vehicle) into an ambulance. Not far away, SAIC showed off a software system that can use “avatars” to train soldiers on the customs of foreign cultures.  Passersby marveled at the heavy doors and wheels of three gigantic armored trucks and vehicles brought in by Oshkosh Defense of Wisconsin. Others tried on boots, made with nylon and Gore-Tex lining, that can withstand extreme heat and cold. W.L. Gore & Associates, the company that makes the boot, had brought in a simulation box for interested customers.
  • “It’ll give you the feeling of going through the desert and then up into the snow all in two minutes,” said Mary Hopkins, an associate with the Elkton, MD-based firm, explained to a man as he tried on the boots and stood in the simulation box.  Unlike during past shows, when there was always a sense of excitement about the business opportunities made possible by the government, a feeling of anxiety prevails over this year’s event. The Pentagon is pushing to in-source more of the work that has been typically done by contractors in recent years. There’s worry about what will happen as the Pentagon’s top brass pushes defense companies to produce weapons systems more efficiently, within budget and on time.

SFTT Analysis:

 

SFTT meticulously reviewed every vendor listed in the AUSA brochure to confirm SFTT’s B.E.S.T. Campaign items – Body Armor, Advanced Combat Helmet, Rifle, Sidearm, and Boots – suffice to say that only Body Armor (Point Blank, Inc) and Sidearm (Beretta) are represented; zero on the Advanced Combat Helmet or the Rifle; and a marginal vendor peddling boots.  Enough said.

0