Peter Flory, former assistant secretary for defense investment for NATO.

Peter Flory, former assistant secretary for defense investment for NATO. NATO file photo

Defense officials plead need for agility

Impending budget cuts will require managers to remain flexible, panelists say.

The Defense Department needs to be more agile in the face of new and upcoming budget constraints, department officials and military experts said at a panel discussion Tuesday.

“The security challenges remain high, budgets are going down. We have no choice but to adapt,” Peter Flory, former assistant secretary for defense investment for NATO, told attendees at a PwC event produced in cooperation with Government Executive.

The officials stressed the need to remain flexible and be willing to throw out bad processes that stand in the way of quick results. The panel discussed the importance of a top-down, leadership-driven shift toward a new paradigm that encourages agility.

“I don’t believe there is sustainable change,” said James Craft, chief information officer of the Defense Department’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization. “By definition change changes. The point is to maintain the culture and the continual and rational change toward objectives.”

Beth McGrath, deputy chief management officer at Defense, said setting clear goals and deadlines helps foster greater flexibility.

“If you can define ‘this is what I want to accomplish and why,’ then you focus on the outcome instead of how to get there,” she said. “Creating the focus with a time frame is what will enable speed.”

She added that to identify bad procedures and policies, managers must constantly monitor their office’s practices.

“Someone [must] challenge the status quo because without the constant ‘but why are we doing it?’ we will just continue to do what it has done,” she said. “If you don’t question the policy and the process, it will continue.”

U.S. international partners are similarly looking to make their militaries more adaptable.

“We wanted to remain a global player with . . . capabilities across the full spectrum,” said Ian Wallace, an officer in the British embassy in Washington, “but at the same time contribute significantly to reducing our national debt. We pretty much concluded the only way we can do that is to be more agile.”

The key to promoting this agility, the panel agreed, is to encourage competition.

“Competition of ideas is good,” Craft said, “and if you drive all competition of ideas and approaches out of government . . . you will stifle creativity and innovation.”