Cohen Tells Civilians: Be Impudent

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen called on DoD's civilian work force to revolutionize the way the department does business.

DoD is slimming down and at the same time attempting to modernize to remain a strong, ready force capable of dealing with 21st century threats, Cohen said. "We're going to call upon each of you to examine ways we can do things better, smarter and cheaper," he told DoD employees at a Public Service Recognition Week ceremony May 5.

Navy Secretary John H. Dalton, Air Force Secretary Sheila E. Widnall, Army Undersecretary Joe R. Reeder and Army Lt. Gen. John J. Cusick, Joint Staff logistics director, also attended the hour-long tribute to government workers.

Cohen said he is enormously impressed by the enthusiasm and dedication of DoD's "can-do" employees. America's armed forces are the best, most capable military force anywhere in the world, he said, but "they couldn't carry out their functions -- as tough and arduous as they are -- without your help."

He then called on DoD civilians to help revolutionize department operations. People need to ask "impudent questions that challenge the older order of things," he said. "That's precisely what's happening with the Quadrennial Defense Review."

Like the 1991 Base Force Review and the 1993 Bottom-up Review, the Quadrennial Defense Review asks basic questions about America's defense for the new era. "We're asking, What kind of armed forces do we need for the next century?," Cohen said. "What do we want our forces to do and how do we want them to carry out those duties? What programs, policies and technologies do we need, and how are we going to pay for them?"

One aim of the review, he noted, is to provoke national debate about defense strategy, requirements and resources. "We have to have a bipartisan discussion that's inclusive, not only of the policy makers in this administration and Congress, but also of the American people. The QDR is clearly going to outline the choices for our country and the risk involved in each of these choices."

Cohen commended DoD employees working on the review as well as normal duties. "It's like trying to overhaul your engine while you're driving down the highway," he said. "But somehow you seem to be doing it and doing it well."

A driving force behind the review is the administration's effort to balance the federal budget. The defense budget is set at $250 billion (plus inflation) for the foreseeable future, Cohen said. "That may sound like a lot of money, but the fact is, in 1985, we were spending roughly $400 billion in today's dollars."

DoD has made substantial reductions over the past decade, Cohen said, cutting force structure by a third and procurement by two-thirds. Further changes are necessary to operate within the projected budget, he said. DoD civilians can do their part to streamline operations and reduce redundancy in day-to-day operations, he said.

Cohen is due to report to the president and Congress on the Quadrennial Defense Review May 15. Noting reporters in the audience, he declined to reveal any of the much-anticipated findings, but he joked, "I will tell you about some of the ideas the QDR has rejected.

"For example, he said, "someone proposed the Air Force hold bake sales to pay for the F-22s [fighter jets]. That one came from the Army, I think. We also dropped the idea that we ask Bob Dole for a big loan. Someone had the temerity to suggest people cut the secretary of defense's speeches in half so everyone could get back to work. I personally squashed that one."

In a more serious tone, Cohen said, the review has totally rejected business as usual. "We have to change, and we're going to change," he said. "By the turn of the century, the department will not be the same organization it is today. That change has to begin today."

Just as corporate America had to change to remain competitive, DoD must change to live within its resources, Cohen said. "For decades, America was on top of the world in virtually every category. When I was growing up, for example, nearly every automobile on our highways was made in America. It was a Cadillac, an Oldsmobile, maybe even a DeSoto or a Nash Rambler. Then something happened. In the early 1970s, the cars traveling on our highways were quite different. They were Hondas, Toyotas, Mazdas ... made not in America, but principally in Japan."

Corporate America took a hard look at themselves and found they'd gotten soft and flabby, Cohen said. They realized they had to restructure their organizations to get lean. They went through a painful process of downsizing, rightsizing and outsourcing -- shedding excess weight keeping them from being competitive in the international environment. As a result, Cohen said, corporate America is back on top.

Former Defense Secretary William J. Perry and Undersecretary for Acquisition and Technology Paul G. Kaminski started DoD's business revolution with acquisition reform. "We were loaded down with an obsolete system of acquiring our technology," Cohen said. Reform is called for in other areas such as travel reimbursement and using credit cards instead of a voluminous purchase order system, he said.

DoD has some 1,300 pages of travel reimbursement regulations, Cohen said. Most companies in the private sector have about 13. "We could save approximately a billion dollars a year just in that facet of our operation alone."

While the review percolates in Pentagon offices with the final brew still to come, the overall message is already clear: "We need to find ways to shift money from our operations and support budget into the acquisition of new systems," Cohen said. "We've got to find ways to do things better and cheaper and faster."

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