David Packard’s Folly

Tom Peters

Ask Navy Secretary John Lehman to show you the table of organization for our centralized management of the Lebanon fiasco; he sadly unfolds a ten-foot-long, small-print chart onto his conference table. Lehman is appropriately proud of some recent small steps toward de-organizing (as he calls it) the most tradition-encrusted of all bureaucracies, the Navy. For instance, he eliminated a whole layer of management, the Chief of Naval Materiel, along with its 450-person staff. Lehman’s steps in the right direction could well be undermined if the recent blue-ribbon Packard Commission’s suggestions are heeded.

Hewlett-Packard co-founder David Packard earned fame by creating a remarkably innovative and decentralized operation. It is ironic that after a year of studying how to improve the military’s organization, Packard would ignore the formula for his own success and recommend that the Pentagon create not one, but two new bureaucracies!

According to the just-released report of the Packard Commission (apparently accepted by the President), there will be a new Under-Secretary of Defense for Acquisitions, with appropriate staffs, of course. A new Vice Chairman level also will be added to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, under an existing chief whose powers will be increased and centralized as well.

What a disappointing outcome given the military reform movement that has been in the wind in Washington for several years and that has rallied support from those on the left and the right. The movement’s bellwether book is The Pentagon and the Art of War, by analyst Edward Luttwak. Presidential aspirant Gary Hart teamed up with conservative analyst William Lind to produce the recent book America Can Win. Respected New York Times reporter Arthur Hadley just added The Straw Giant to the reading list, which also includes another half dozen major works published in the last two years.

All these distinguished commentators find strategic weapon-system productivity to be low, and rate our tactical performance a failure in Iran, Lebanon, and Grenada.

The books also find similar reasons for our military snafus. Our officers are bureaucrats, not leaders of men. We pay too much attention to front-end technology and not enough to training and logistics. Our weapons systems are so complicated that we don’t buy many and we don’t adequately test those that we do buy. Overlapping commands, in Washington and in the field, are wildly overstaffed.

Regardless of political persuasion, the analysts all cry out for more training, more attention to logistics, greater honor (and power) to field commanders, simpler weapon systems (the absence of a goldplating bias allows the Russians to get much more bang for the buck than we do), and a pared-down, cleaned-up, and cleaned-out chain of command.

Interestingly, these critiques match, one for one, my assessment of the private manufacturing sector’s problematic management performance.

Evidence of the problems continues to pour forth. A recent New York Times op-ed piece by long-time policy analyst Adam Yarmolinsky revealed that in order to save diminishing support for massive new weapons systems, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger has submitted a 1987 budget that “cuts spare part purchases for the Air Force by 39 percent; the Navy, 22 percent; the Army, 32 percent. Funds for ammunition, tactical missiles, and critical support equipment were slashed almost as deeply.”

A few days later the Sunday Boston Globe carried one piece that criticized the Packard Commission. Another damning article attacked the super-secret stealth bomber, whose good, simple design it said is now so loaded up with bells and whistles that the original purpose of the aircraft is in grave jeopardy.

Why does Mr. Packard, father of effective decentralization of large-scale enterprises, think that more staff and more centralization will save the military? The textbook answer now making the rounds in Washington is that this new bureaucracy is a separate bureaucracy that will take power out of the hands of the garbled bureaucratic mess that exists today.

Fat chance! That always has been the rationale for every new bureaucracy. The new mess will save us from the old mess. But old bureaucrats—and their elaborate systems—don’t die so quietly. A new bureaucracy never fails to spawn new counter-bureaucracies, regardless of any policy to the contrary.

Despite the unanimous diagnosis from outside analysts, there is no obvious cure. I greatly sympathize with Secretary Weinberger. If he tried to buy simpler systems and provide greater training support Congress doubtless would cut back the numbers of both drastically. That’s a fact of life in the budget negotiation game. Also, to be fair, technology forces increases in system complexity, although we have not come to grips with its consequences and how to have it working, ready, and supportable should we need it.

The conundrum: centralization inevitably will make things worse; but simplification is not politically feasible. Congress feels helpless. The Defense Department feels helpless. Technological and bureaucratic complexity feed on one another.

No market mechanism goads Defense toward incremental improvement. Sadly, the odds are high that we will wind up paying for Defense mismanagement after it’s too late for repair. The time for radical pruning of the Defense bureaucracy and an about-face in weapons-acquisition policy is now.

(c)1986 TPG Communications

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