Critics not satisfied by naming of Pentagon management chief

By Dan Friedman

September 28, 2007

As the Senate weighs legislation requiring the Pentagon to create the position of chief management officer, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has added the job to Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England's portfolio. But the unilateral move has not quieted the department's critics.

Gate's action "does not address the longer term needs that the Government Accountability Office and others have identified," Comptroller General David Walker told CongressDaily Thursday.

In a Sept. 18 directive, Gates expanded England's official role to include "serving as the chief management officer of the Department of Defense." The directive requires England to oversee the Pentagon's push to overhaul its business operations, through steps such as combining hundreds of separate accounting systems and improving the procurement process.

The move came as the Senate resumed consideration of the fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill, which includes language mandating the creation of a CMO.

The language also requires other bureaucratic changes, including the addition of a deputy chief management officer in the department, below England. It also would force the Army, Air Force and Navy to designate their respective undersecretaries as chief management officers.

Outside groups -- including GAO, the Defense Business Board, the Institute for Defense Analysis and the Center for Strategic and International Studies -- have in recent years issued a host of reports arguing the Pentagon needs a full-time, high-level CMO with enough time and power to push through changes in the department's financial systems, supply chain, information technology, weapons acquisition system and other areas.

The department is responsible for 15 of 27 federal activities that GAO designates as facing a high risk of waste, fraud or abuse.

The congressional auditing agency has repeatedly argued that, under the current structure, senior Pentagon officials are too busy and not on the job long enough to get the department's programs off the high-risk list.

"We believe the establishment of a separate CMO position would bring leadership, accountability, focus and direction to the department's effort," GAO wrote in a report released this month.

Defense officials, including England, have said adding a management chief beneath him would create an unneeded bureaucratic layer. Although a response from the Pentagon was not available at press time, Gates' directive is consistent with the department's position that England already functions as a CMO.

Gates' directive drew applause from Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., who inserted the CMO language in the defense authorization bill. "Senator Ensign is pleased with the progress," a spokesman said.

But Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, another CMO advocate, dismissed the directive.

"I consider this status quo at DoD and question whether or not an additional title will result in meaningful reform," Voinovich said in a statement. "I question how anyone could take on responsibility for solving the ongoing management challenges facing the department and still meet the existing obligations inherent in being second in charge at the department."

Walker and others observed that England will depart soon and the job could be altered again at any time.

"While Gordon England is an exceptional individual, by definition, we know he's only going to be in for a year," Walker said. "It's not an issue about Gordon. This is an issue of institutionalization that transcends administrations."

By Dan Friedman

September 28, 2007