The Buzz

Building Better Leaders

You don't have to be an expert in what an organization does in order to lead it. But if you aren't, it helps to know where the operation fits in the larger enterprise; how to interact with experts, other organizations and employees; what to do to solve problems; and how to win over employees and get them to talk.

"Compensating for Incomplete Do-main Knowledge," a new RAND Corp. briefing for the Air Force, uses insights from interviews with 27 senior officers and civilian executives to tease out the skills they relied on when dropped into high-level posts for which they weren't completely qualified.

It's a common problem in the military services, which place officers with operational experience in charge of support organizations as they progress in rank. They can't hire officers from other services, so they must grow them from within. The speed of evolution in technology and weapons systems means that as fast as leaders gain experience, it's outdated.

RAND recommended that the Air Force use its educational system to inculcate compensatory skills by emphasizing organizational analysis techniques, communication analysis and problem-solving strategies. Teach leaders to view organizations through structural, cultural, human relations and political lenses. Show them how to analyze root causes of problems and the dynamics of systems. Demonstrate how to gauge the knowledge levels of employees and stakeholders to generate common understandings and how to translate technical information for nontechnical audiences.

Good abilities to have wherever they might lead.

Old Newbies

The Merit Systems Protection Board's Office of Policy and Evaluation recently surveyed entry-level new hires at federal agencies and found they are older and more experienced than you might expect.

Why? For one thing, agencies tend to rate applicants on the extent of their training and experience rather than on the skills they have developed as a result. In addition, agencies rely heavily on posting announcements on USAJOBs, where new hires age 30 and older tend to search, rather than using the personal recruiting efforts more effective with those under 30. Federal jobs also often require levels of education that weed out potential candidates, despite the lack of a demonstrated relationship between the requirements and job performance.

Ruff Going

The Homeland Security Department's list of enemies is extensive: Islamic fundamentalists, homegrown terrorists, militant extremist groups. A Michigan kennel company also believes it was targeted.

K9 Operations Inc. filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office (B-299923), arguing contracting officials with DHS' Customs and Border Protection bureau deliberately stacked the deck against them during competition for a contract to care for four-legged border protectors.

Britt's Bow Wow Bed 'N' Biscuit won the contract, which included the construction of an outdoor dog run, bathing, tick removal and feeding. The luxurious doggie resort just outside Detroit boasts on its Web site that its guest quarters "include solid partitions for privacy, fleece blankets for snuggling . . . and cookie breaks are also given throughout the day!"

But K9 Operations said Britt's should have been disqualified because it failed to meet certain proposal requirements, including the ability to provide 24-hour parking. K-9 also contended that an ugly end to a previous contract biased the bureau. CBP canceled a prior contract with K9 after a series of unannounced visits and inspections led to issuance of two violations and the removal of all the agency's dogs. The bureau chose Britt's as an interim facility.

GAO adjudicators, finding no evidence of bias or impropriety by CBP, ruled that K9 was barking up the wrong tree.

-Robert Brodsky

Short-Staffed in Iraq

The Defense Department is getting pretty sore about carrying most of the burden in Iraq and Afghanistan, both for fighting and for fixing. Soldiers and Defense civilian employees are overrepresented on provisional reconstruction teams and other projects in both countries.

PRTs began in October 2005 to help Iraq's provincial governments govern, increase security and promote economic and political development. But Ginger Cruz, deputy special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, told Congress in September that teams lack civilian members and are short-staffed, forcing the military to fill slots with soldiers who lack expertise. Cruz also reported that less than 5 percent of team members speak Arabic.

President Bush's January U.S. troop surge in Iraq also affected PRTs. Bush called for 10 new ones to team up with brigades in Baghdad and Anbar province, five more elsewhere and a doubling of staff by year's end. But in August, 200 of 800 new PRT slots remained vacant. Defense had filled 96 percent of its surge positions (104), while the State Department and other civilian agencies had identified 68 percent of the staff members they need and planned to place them by the end of 2007.

Civilians at least get extra compensation, including a 35 percent danger pay allowance and a 35 percent foreign post differential. Their premium pay cap is $212,000. They also are eligible for the Secretary of Defense Global War on Terrorism Medal and the Purple Heart.

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