Kathleen Hicks takes a phone call from a senator shortly before her Senate confirmation hearing for Deputy Secretary of Defense in Washington, D.C. Feb. 2, 2021.

Kathleen Hicks takes a phone call from a senator shortly before her Senate confirmation hearing for Deputy Secretary of Defense in Washington, D.C. Feb. 2, 2021. Defense Department photo Photo by EJ Hersom

New Institute Will Study How the Defense Department Manages Itself

To “compete on a global stage,” DOD must get a handle on its management practices, Deputy Defense Secretary says.

The Department of Defense and bureaucracy are considered nearly synonymous, but the Pentagon’s newly launched Defense Management Institute aims to speed up the pace of decision making by studying how leaders at various levels actually manage everything from acquisition to logistics to human resources.

In remarks at the launch Tuesday, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks framed the new institute as part of a broader push by the Biden Administration to incorporate data into decision-making as soon as it’s available, rather than months or years later. 

“We simply cannot compete on today's global stage without reliable and ready-to-use data to inform our decision making,” she said. “To do this, we are updating our data capabilities and our performance metrics [and] leveraging the defense Business Council. We have built a truly strategic management plan focused around the [Defense Secretary’s] priorities and fully aligned with the National Defense Strategy.” 

One of the core functions of the new institute will be to study and write reports for the Director of Administration and Management Michael Donley, but also to address management issues on behalf of other elements of the department. “These could be quick assessments or full-fledged studies,” DMI Director Peter Levine explained Tuesday. “We could not and would not try to supplant the many fine institutions that already support the department's efforts across a wide range of management-related issues…We view DMI as an effort to bring you all together and leverage your expertise, not to replace or supplant the work that you do.”

The institute will also build a network of management experts across the Defense Department, the private sector, and academia, and will serve as a digital repository for research on management issues. But that won’t necessarily include all the department’s data related to management, at least not yet, said Levine. The new institute will operate out of the Institute of Defense Analysis on a contract basis, rather than be a formal arm of the Defense Department itself. 

The size of the management challenge for the Defense Department is difficult to fathom. Consider the wide variety of different pieces of IT across desks all over the globe—and that the DOD can simultaneously achieve new feats in physics and computation while having other people working on “legacy” computer systems between 8 and 51 years old. 

That’s why DMI is so important, Hicks said. “Never before has there been an institute dedicated solely to performance improvement. Management reform advantages the entire department, including logistics, acquisition, technology, all of which are central to the department's mission. And it directly supports the warfighter.”

In her remarks, she highlighted other areas where she and other civilian Pentagon leaders in the Biden administration are working to reform Defense Department management. “Congress's dissolution of the chief management officer, which took place just before I came back to the Pentagon in 2021, meant that we had to look afresh at how to organize for business operations,” she said.

Some of those efforts include bulking up the authorities and powers of the director of administration and management, setting up a framework—with clear definitions—for evaluating management performance across the Defense Department, and using new data tools to “gain a far better view into the implementation of the National Defense Strategy than our predecessors were ever afforded,” she said.