Defense management reforms take shape, report finds

Most of the initiatives in a 1997 plan to reshape the Defense Department's management strategy have been folded into Defense's 2001 strategic plan and are moving forward, according to a new General Accounting Office report.

Five projects outlined in the 1997 Defense Reform Initiative have been completed, and 35 more are under way, the report (GAO-03-58) said. The five completed projects aim to make it easier for employees to use government purchase cards; consolidate more than 330 finance and accounting centers into 26 offices; give military employees annual raises above the Employment Cost Index (a measure of annual private sector wage increases); create a new acquisition system; and simplify the process for awarding relocation entitlements.

Projects such as the Defense Travel System, which would allow Defense employees to make travel arrangements online, and a plan to outsource military housing to private companies, are examples of 1997 initiatives that are still under way, but have been revised and included in a new Defense management strategy, GAO said. The GAO report was based on an analysis of Defense's Feb. 28 report on the status of 1997 Defense reform initiatives.

The Defense Reform Initiative, a 78-page report issued by William Cohen, President Clinton's Defense secretary, provides a strategy for consolidating the department through eliminating unnecessary infrastructure through base closures and outsourcing initiatives.

Cohen's report planned formal studies-studies in which government workers restructure their operations and compete with contractors for specific workloads-for about 230,000 civilian jobs through 2005. The report also set goals for the use of government purchase cards and also encouraged the department to use e-commerce more.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld developed a new management reform program in 2001, and the Senate Committee on Armed Services ordered GAO to make sure 1997 initiatives were not forgotten under Rumsfeld's strategy.

Defense officials told GAO that the new management program was not intended to replace the 1997 initiatives, but simply to supplement them. The new structure is different in that it does not include as many specific savings targets.

While the 1997 initiatives did not get lost in the transition from the Clinton to Bush administrations, GAO pointed out that progress on the 1997 initiatives is not tracked as closely now, so that it will be hard to tell what impact the reforms will have.

Defense officials agreed with the report.

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