The Pentagon Labyrinth
by Mike Kimel
Cross posted at the Presimetrics blog.
I just came upon The Pentagon Labyrinth Its a very readable, very informative collection of essays about national defense in the United States. The essays are written by ex-defense personnel (some of whom were very influential) and journalists who cover the military, and to top it off, its free!!!!
From the book’s blurbage:
The Pentagon Labyrinth aims to help both newcomers and seasoned observers learn how to grapple with the problems of national defense. Intended for readers who are frustrated with the superficial nature of the debate on national security, this handbook takes advantage of the insights of ten unique professionals, each with decades of experience in the armed services, the Pentagon bureaucracy, Congress, the intelligence community, military history, journalism and other disciplines. The short but provocative essays will help you to:
-identify the decay—moral, mental and physical—in America’s defenses,
-understand the various “tribes” that run bureaucratic life in the Pentagon,
-appreciate what too many defense journalists are not doing, but should,
-conduct first rate national security oversight instead of second rate theater,
-separate careerists from ethical professionals in senior military and civilian ranks,
-learn to critique strategies, distinguishing the useful from the agenda-driven,
-recognize the pervasive influence of money in defense decision-making,
-unravel the budget games the Pentagon and Congress love to play,
-understand how to sort good weapons from bad—and avoid high cost failures, and reform the failed defense procurement system without changing a single law.
The handbook ends with lists of contacts, readings and Web sites carefully selected to facilitate further understanding of the above, and more.
This new publication from the Center for Defense Information (CDI) is being made available for download through our Web site at the following links below. Included are the full e-book, and all individual sections and essays in PDF format.
Its a quick read (vital for me right now!!), and frankly, there isn’t much in here that’s controversial though its clear several of the writers relish being gadflies. The book is chock full of facts, and it provides a lot of great food for thought about military issues.
I recommend reading this book.
Then link to http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d11394t.pdf
See page 12, and check the 2012 DoD weapons acquisitions budget to see that $348B for big programs is only part of the tab of more than a trillion dollars over the 5 years for pentagon acquisitions and developments, the smaller ones being more money than the big ones and far less well managed than the programs GAO sees are in trouble.
If we would listen to these guys and take GAO to heart!
I read two of these articles and gave up on the rest. I read #5 Careerism and #9 Evaluating Weapon Systems. I managed to get through the anti-military screed that popped up at times (They poorly hidden “Bush Lied, People Died” came up even). The cherry-picking was also very blatant. I will try to address some of the author’s issues and ignore the hysteria.
The complaint about careerist officers vs. non-careerist officers has been around a LONG time. I remember it heavily during my time at the Academy (early 80’s), it peaked again during the Reduction-in-Force (RIFs) caused by the drawdown after the victory in the cold war (’91-’92), again during the very lean budget years in the ’99-00 and it now seems to be coming up again. This is nothing new nor is this article very well written or very objective.
His main points seem to be an argument against the revolving door in the military and its promotion policies.
The revolving door is/has been an issue for decades. Part of this is due to the mandatory up or out promotion system, 20 year cliff vesting of retirement benefits, and the mandatory retirement ages for each rank (Maj & below 20 years, LT Col 24, Col 28, Generals 35 – waivers have been given in some 4-stars cases). What this causes is a heavy attrition in the officer ranks around at the mid to senior level Captain age as officers finish their initial commitments. These officers are roughly 28-34 and are highly sought after by industry and regularly get swept-up with starting salaries in the $50-65 range on the first rung of the leadership track. Because of cliff-vesting most who make Major will try to stay until 20 years in service (where you have another large group retire). Pilots need to get out young if they wish to have a career in the airlines (other positions are similar – most medical for example).
What officers do after retirement depends almost entirely on rank they had, experience they bring to the table, and connections. The author was 100% correct that officers, especially 3-4 stars who have connections will obtain the brass-ring. Brought in at the VP level and making BIG bucks (if they develop a name, they can make really big bucks). 1-2 stars usually go into industry at the Director level and Col/Lt Col start farther down the ladder. Clark is an excellent example of a general who got fired but still made the Brass ring. Gen McPeak of the USAF was a total incompetent but made it to the top. (Then got fired from his civilian job!).
I also partially agree with his idea that non-performing officers are not fired. They actually are to a point, especially at the below the 3-4 star (political) level. There are plenty of Maj/Lt Col/Cols whose career ended in the […]
Which brings me to promotion policies. I talk from the Air Force perspective, but you will get the gist. First don’t ever forget most officers have families and kids – that is always part of the equation. Secondly you cannot make General until you’ve served 20 years by law. (Which means no Bill Gates or Steve Jobs running a $100 billion organization when he’s 30 or the Facebook guy at 22). Third it’s an up or out system and unless you make Lt Col there is no guarantee you will be allowed to stay in until you vest for retirement. You cannot start be promoted early, like Clark in the article, until you’re up for Major. That early promotion to major, especially 2 years early, is a huge factor in making general. Because of the timing of in-the–zone promotions it’s almost unheard of to ever make general and only be promoted “on-time”. I can think of only 1 general in the AF to do that during my entire career and he just made 1 star. Normal in-the-zone promotion to Col is at 20 years. So to make General and have a chance at the 3-4 star level you need to be promoted at least 2 years early so you can have 2 years in grade at Col and pin on General at 20. Otherwise you’re done. Because of this once you get on the fast track it’s easier to stay on. You meet the right people and hold the right jobs and the boss doesn’t get questioned if he recommends the fast tracker over the next guy even if the next guy is better (and he will be questioned if he does). It’s a rich get richer system and this has not changed even during war-time; other than the obvious idiots get weeded out much faster.
In the Air Force the number 1 factor in making general officer is how well you do at stick-and-rudder skills at age 23 when you go through pilot training. I graduated in the top 3rd and got a B-52. The man right in front of me in the order got an F-15. That one fact gave my friend an almost order of magnitude greater chance to make General than I. (I did the analysis with another guy when I was at the Pentagon with the data we could get). On the other hand my roommate at the Academy made Col 4 years early, was the first in our class, and was a Minute-Man missile guy, not a pilot.
And all 4 services have tried to find ways around these problems. But it’s a large organization, the current winners (4 stars) won in that system, and the Peter Principle still applies. Ego’s expand when everyone is kissing you a$$ all the time (see our Congress-critters). Even with all that we still get outstanding officers at the top that lead to things like Desert Storm, the over-running of Afghanistan in 3 months, and Iraq getting run-over in even less time.
And I totally agree with the author on his depiction of Wes Clark. I was involved when he was running the show over Kosovo/Serbia. He was a nut case.