Pentagon Sounds Alarm on Budget Crisis, but No One Is Listening

This article clearly defines the problem we have being the best military in the world.

By Harlan Ullman, Observer – Nov 8 2017

At Yakota Air Base in Japan last week, President Donald Trump told an audience of American service personnel, “We dominate the sky, sea. land and space.” Certainly since the first Gulf War in 1991, America could rightly proclaim that its military was the finest, most capable and best equipped force on the globe. That legacy still exists-but only for the time being.

The irony is that 16 years of war and continued military operations can only be sustained with defense budgets that are substantially larger than what we are prepared to spend. While both Armed Services Committees of Congress have recognized this necessity with a recommended defense budget of more than $700 billion this year, given proposed tax cuts and a national debt of $20 trillion, the chances of approval are small. And the chances of sustaining that budget absent another major war are nil.

Two insidious cancers are attacking the U.S. military and the Department of Defense. And both are largely outside the purview of the Pentagon.

The first is uncontrolled internal real cost growth of about five to seven percent a year for every item in the budget from people to precision weapons to pencils. The Defense Business Board has been sounding this alarm for several years, but no one outside the Pentagon or the two Armed Services Committees is listening.

Real costs for people, health care, technology, operations and maintenance are increasing at such a rate that in 10 years they will double what they are today. That means that an additional $30-50 billion a year are needed just to keep even.

Second, the decision-making-budgeting approval and oversight processes are nightmarish. The failure to approve annual budgets and the default position of continuing resolutions to fund defense make rational planning impossible. Oversight has metastasized into a condition that often paralyzes sensible program management with too many unnecessary and costly rules and requirements. Sequestration mandates arbitrary across the board cuts as if we can procure 10 percent less of a warship, tank or fighter jet.

It is a wonder that the Pentagon functions as well as it does and this is a tribute to the perseverance and patience of the people serving in the department. The result is a military force that is overstretched and becoming less prepared, trained and capable of conducting their assigned missions. The scathing indictments of this lack of skill sets and professionalism in the Navy investigations of two ship collisions last summer are symptomatic of this decline. The result is headed to a “hollow force.”

Following wars when armies and navies are usually demobilized, clearly for understandable reasons, military readiness and fighting power decline often dramatically. This happened after two world wars. After Vietnam, while the Cold War was very much alive, the military was not provided the resources to sustain its readiness, fighting power and morale. In the words of former Army Chief of Staff General E.C. (“Shy”) Meyer, the U.S. military became a “hollow force” and unready to fight.

Now, a similar fate awaits the U.S. military. The nation has three choices. First, it can take the path of least resistance and do little to halt this condition from arising. Second, it can pay whatever is needed to sustain our military at high levels of readiness including replacement and modernization of the weapons and systems of war. Third, it can put in balance this huge mismatch between and among strategy, operational requirements, force levels and budgets in one of two ways.

Strategy, operational requirements and force levels would have to be defined in terms of a realistic assessment of what funding will be available.  The sub-choice is either a larger, less ready and less capable but not a completely hollow force or a smaller, well prepared and well equipped military.

In an ideal world, only choices two and three are acceptable. But spending more money is politically unlikely and making tough tradeoffs that mandate substantial changes to strategy and force levels are difficult at the best of times. These choices are not made any easier when the U.S. must modernize and replace its nuclear triad at a cost that could easily reach more than $2 trillion over the next decade or two.

Until the administration is willing to recognize and act on this looming crisis-and no administration wishes to be in such a position-while also refraining from loose rhetoric that exaggerates our military strength and ignores what lies ahead, beware but prepare for a hollow force.

Program Management Improvement Accountability Act – Now What?

By: Neil F. Albert

At the end of 2016 the Program Management Improvement Accountability Act (PMIAA) was passed into law (Public Law No: 114-264).  Its purpose is to improve the program management practice in government agencies.  The law establishes as additional functions of the Deputy Director for Management of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requirements to:

  • adopt and oversee implementation of government-wide standards, policies, and guidelines for program and project management for executive agencies;
  • chair the Program Management Policy Council (established by this Act);
  • establish standards and policies for executive agencies consistent with widely accepted standards for program and project management planning and delivery;
  • engage with the private sector to identify best practices in program and project management that would improve federal program and project management;
  • conduct portfolio reviews to address programs identified as high risk by the Government Accountability Office (GAO);
  • conduct portfolio reviews of agency programs at least annually to assess the quality and effectiveness of program management; and
  • establish a five-year strategic plan for program and project management.

However the Department of Defense (DOD) is exempt from such provisions to the extent that they are substantially similar to: (1) federal provisions governing the defense acquisition workforce; or (2) policy, guidance, or instruction of DOD related to program management.

Why Is This Important? 

For me this law raises several important questions. Does the government lack good program managers?  Are agencies missing a critical capability to ensure program success? Do government PMs have the knowledge and tools to manage their programs?  So many questions come to mind as to why this law was put in place, and by reading its intent, it appears that by adding more policies, standards, and oversight, we are going to make PMs more effective.

We cannot afford the many program failures we have had due to cost and schedule overruns and/or technical inefficiencies.  However, in my opinion, by putting all the requirements of this law in place program management improvement will increase only marginally if at all.  Instead what it will do is what government always does to solve its problems  – establish a new set of rules and regulations and have people in oversight positions ensure that everyone follows them. In other words, the problem is not with PMs lack of policies or standards, it is with the government bureaucracy, culture, and environment. The program manager needs the training, knowledge, experience, authority and responsibility to see the program successfully through its acquisition stages.  The way our Federal agencies are managed today, this is a challenge.

There are numerous reasons for government program management failures even with the best managers in place. The most notable ones are predominantly in the Department of Defense.  But there are plenty of failures across government to prove that something needs to be done to improve government program management results.

From my perspective, it needs to start by changing the way PMs in each agency are selected, trained, and managed. More importantly, PMs could be more effective if the requirements and acquisition processes were more closely aligned.

In 2011, I was part of a study completed by the Defense Business Board (DBB) to identify best business practices that could improve the intake and development of uniformed PMs. But the study really applies beyond those in uniform and could be extended to all federal PMs.

For years, the federal government has attempted to reform and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its acquisition process (including Program Management).  Many PMs, senior officials, and others who were interviewed for the DBB study believe that PMs spend the majority of their time going from meeting to meeting and answering the same questions amongst the various offices. There are “checkers checking checkers” throughout the program management process, which is both inefficient and ineffective.

Most Federal agencies with large procurements face the same issue. In other words, PMs spend too much time managing the politics and the “process” rather than managing the business aspects. This creates problems in recruiting and maintaining experienced PMs. The new law appears to be putting on more processes which will further hinder the PMs from doing their job.  The only way to change this trend is to make an environmental and cultural change.  We need to give the Program Manager the freedom to do their job without the hindrance of politics and process.

What Needs To Be Done

  1. Selecting The Right Individuals

Key to ensuring effective program management is selecting the right individuals. By identifying the key traits necessary for effective program management work, the government can use that information to screen candidates.  Just because you fly F-22s does not necessarily make you a good F-22 Program Manager. For major acquisitions PMs need experience managing programs, bringing a real understanding and appreciation of what needs to be accomplished as a PM. In today’s environment, recruiting individuals with special skill sets (e.g., IT/Software/Cyber) is a priority. But this can only happen if government agencies build a culture and tradition that places program management as a career destination not just a stopping point.

  1. Training Is Critical

Understanding the practices, tools, and approaches to program management can be attained by attending PM development courses at universities, rotating across programs, or through mentorship. By being on an effective program management team, members will gain appreciation for the diversity of the job, and potential for growth. And through increased training time, PM team members will gain experience and situational awareness needed to manage.  Those with high-potential in the acquisition force could be given a tour in industry to gain business savvy on how industry does business.

  1. Giving Authority And Responsibility To Manage The Processes

What hurts the government program management field most is how they are managed, specifically, the PMs lack of authority and responsibility to make key acquisition decisions due to the bureaucracy and cultural traits found in government.

On the other hand, their industry counterparts have authority and responsibility because suppliers support a strong program management function with increased PM tenure, continuity and business acumen.  Industry PMs are typically in a line function and have career aspirations and planned destinations. Unfortunately not all PMs in government understand the business dynamics that drive suppliers and affect performance. With this additional acumen, they could be more productive and able to communicate with industry on a level playing field.

By aligning the requirements, resources, and acquisition processes more closely, PMs do not have competing goals.  The DBB study suggested that to accomplish this, it is necessary to make sure that those who are responsible for the requirements process and funding are also responsible for the acquisition process (i.e., the program manager). To accomplish this it is necessary to extend the capability/requirements process deeper into the acquisition process so that the cost and capabilities trades can be made earlier in the acquisition phase. This means redefining and expanding the PM role so that it is an effective integrator of requirements, resources, and acquisition. For example, the PM should be able to challenge the requirements that might be closely met by a reasonable cost/benefit trade off. Ultimately this will strengthen the program manager’s ability to challenge scope and requirement changes that increase schedule and cost.

What Will Work

The government spends almost $500B a year on acquisition.  Since the 1980s we have been trying to change the issues that drive poor program performance which lead to program failures.  Yet no matter what is done, we end up with the same results time after time. We do not need a law to make PMs more effective, we need the government’s bureaucracy to get out of the way of PMs who are looking to successfully meet the goals and intent of the programs they manage.  We need to build a culture and tradition in government for PMs who both do the right things and do things right without bureaucratic and political interference. Maybe this Act will help achieve that – maybe.

Richard Spires: Without strong Program Management; IT organizations are at risk

Program Management – Key to an IT Organization’s Success

When I am involved in establishing a new large-scale, complex IT program or assessing the health of an ongoing program, I address five key elements. Each is critically important, and if any one of them is not being addressed appropriately, risk rises significantly and can lead to outright program failure.

Further, although it is critical to maintain constant vigilance regarding each element throughout a system’s design, development and implementation, most troubled programs make major mistakes right out of the starting blocks. Hence, I place tremendous importance on ensuring that a program properly addresses all five areas as it launches.

1. Mature Management Processes. The first key element is ensuring that a set of mature management processes is used to run the program. There must be an appropriate system development life cycle, which lays out the approach or approaches that will be used to design, develop, test and deploy the system. For complex IT systems, such as, there might be different approaches for the various subsystems.

Modern development approaches, in particular modular ones, can help simplify and lower development risk. For instance, an agile methodology is appropriate for developing the user interface and business logic for customers to interact with a website. A more traditional development approach might be used for systems in which requirements and data specifications could be defined prior to development.

The program must also establish a robust set of project management disciplines, which include schedule, estimation, requirements, configuration and risk management processes. In complex IT programs that contain multiple subsystems, special focus should be given to the integration management processes to be used throughout the life cycle of the program, again to lower overall delivery risk.

A CIO at a Fortune 500 corporation once told me that the single most important factor affecting the perception of the IT organization is its ability to successfully deliver programs. I absolutely agree.

2. Solid Business and Technical Architecture. The second element is ensuring a solid business architecture supported by a solid technical architecture. The business architecture describes the overall process of what the system must do to support the desired business or mission outcomes. There are many failure mechanisms for programs, but I am surprised by how often there is not a solid high-level business architecture in place early in a program’s life. That absence typically leads to major requirements changes during system development, testing and deployment.

Further, there should be an effort to simplify, to the degree possible, the business processes and determine the minimum required capabilities for an initial system launch. That approach can greatly reduce program risk.

Having a solid technical architecture in place, especially for a complex system with a number of subsystems, is also absolutely critical. If subsystems can be “bought” or repurposed from other systems that meet requirements, the organization ought to do so. Buying rather than building lowers risk substantially. There should be the proper use of off-the-shelf software components, whether they are offered by traditional software vendors or based on open-source technology.

There should also be overall simplicity in the technical architecture because integration of dozens of off-the-shelf components creates its own set of technical complexities. Problems with the technical architecture tend to show up late in the development life cycle during integration and end-to-end testing, typically resulting in performance and scalability problems.

3. Proper Governance Model. The third element focuses on organizations’ roles, commitment and governance. There must be a program governance model in place that recognizes the proper roles and authorities of the important stakeholders, which include the business organization, IT, Procurement and Security, among others. For IT programs, the business organization must be intimately involved in defining requirements, making hard functionality trade-offs, and being a champion for the program with stakeholders both inside and outside the agency. The IT organization must ensure there is a capable program management office (PMO) using management best practices to deliver large IT programs (delivering on the first key element above).

In addition, there should be a formal program governance board in which executives from all the key stakeholder organizations meet regularly to support the program manager. Transparency and good communications among the stakeholders are critical for success. So many programs falter because the stakeholders are pulling the program in different directions; however an effective governance structure will drive stakeholder alignment and provide clear and informed decisions to guide the program manager.

4. Proper Contractor Relationships. The fourth key element is developing the proper relationships with the contractor or contractors supporting the program. Many organizations cannot execute large IT programs without outside support, and those relationships have both formal and informal aspects.

The formal aspect is the contract in which the scope of work, terms and incentives are codified. That is where the procurement organization, with the contracting officer or officers being part of the team, needs to work closely with or even be embedded as part of the PMO to make sure contracts are structured to best support what the program is seeking to achieve.

The informal aspect is the management of the contractors via the PMO. I always look for a program in which the contractors are well integrated into the program and clearly understand their role and the roles of others, and there is open and candid communications among the parties. That type of environment will enable team members to identify issues early, share and discuss innovative ideas, and make informed decisions.

5. Skilled Employees – the right people, with the right skills, on the right projects. Executing elements one through four successfully, however, is not possible without a set of skilled and experienced employees leading the program. That goes beyond the program manager to include a requirements manager, systems architecture lead, test manager, deployment manager and others. I have found it critical that employees for the organization fill most of the key leadership positions on a program. Although contractor personnel can support a PMO, it is difficult to have them in leadership roles given the need to build strong and trusted partnerships with other stakeholders. Given the importance of have a set of skilled and experienced staff to run a program, it is crucial that an IT organization have the culture and make the investment in developing such staff. It is the number one priority for creating a successful IT organization.

Stan Soloway on Why Agile Is Not “One Size Fits All”

Beware the Tyranny of the “One Size Fits All” Syndrome

Stan Soloway

September 28, 2016 column in Washington Technology:

Every time a new policy proposal, strategy or idea comes down the pike, no matter how appealing, we have to remind ourselves that few ideas are THE idea, that as smart as the new idea might be, it almost certainly won’t apply in all cases.

Indeed, one constant and core tenet of the acquisition reform movement and efforts to enhance federal technology procurement and performance has been to incentivize more creativity and flexibility.

Military specifications? Sensible in some cases, but not in all.

So in one of the first acquisition reforms of the 1990s, Secretary of Defense William Perry directed a move away from “milspecs” in order to increase accessibility to proven commercial solutions and speed up the development of new systems.

Software development certifications? Great idea; but there’s more than one, so “or equivalent” language emerged in place of mandates tied solely to any individual certification. The list goes on.

Unfortunately, specific, mandatory certifications and specifications, many of them government-unique, have actually been making a worrisome comeback in recent years, even as the government ostensibly seeks to broaden its competitive aperture. From cost accounting to capability maturity models, from contract type to acquisition strategies, we see too many procurements that send a clear message: Those who haven’t done it our way, or are not doing it a certain way, need not apply. And that isn’t good for the government customer or the taxpayer.

An interesting take on this dichotomy was raised recently in a piece titled “The Tyranny of Agile.” In it, Jennifer Pahlka, the head of Code for America, a leading apostle of agile software development and one of the architects of the Digital Services Playbook, warns against assuming that one size fits all in the software development space.

Lest there be any misconception, Pahlka is most certainly not abandoning her belief in agile or the failures of waterfall methodologies. What she, and others, are concerned about however, is what she calls “the tyranny of misapplied doctrine.” As she says, “agile is one useful doctrine, not THE doctrine.”

Along the same lines, I was privileged recently to participate in the American Public Health Systems Association’s IT Solutions Management Conference. The theme of our panel was “The Role of the Systems Integrator in a Post ‘Big Bang’ Era.” Make no mistake. That role is changing. The advent of more modular, agile strategies has a number of significant impacts on how and where an integrator engages.

But there also appeared to be a consensus that even in an agile environment, the “integrator,” whoever that might be, remains critical.

While agile is clearly the principal methodology of choice, experience with it on complex government systems and business processes remains limited. There are intricate, interwoven networks and co-dependencies throughout the system, and how they are knit together and integrated requires an internal or external entity with the domain and technical expertise, the authority and the accountability needed to drive scaled impact.

Agile techniques certainly bring great value to large complex programs; the challenge is how to apply them properly within an overall modernization strategy that has many, sometimes disparate components. As my co-panelist, a former state CIO, put it, we are in a transition phase during which the application of agile on a broad systemic scale remains a work in progress.

This too resonated with the audience, most of whom were state, local and federal health IT and systems professionals and are on the front lines of this transition. Nonetheless, it does not appear to be universally held.

From public statements, actual procurements, and even some policy proposals, there are tendencies in some quarters to issue narrow methodological mandates, rather than allowing the user’s needs and outcome objectives to guide the overall strategy. And those tendencies are often accompanied by a false presumption that agile itself is the sole province of one community of companies. That a systems integrator, for example, is de facto incapable of implementing an agile methodology or managing in an agile environment.

And so we return to the point we started with: The tendency, on multiple fronts, to conflate issues, to assume an all or nothing posture, when, in fact, what we need is an effective blend.

Better and smarter design and implementation of federal IT programs is a goal everyone should share; as is the recognition that traditional modes, including almost exclusive reliance on waterfall development, need to change.

But it’s too easy, as Pahlka warns, to apply “the wrong context or to misapply methods such as efforts to go ‘all agile’.” After all, an agile methodology doesn’t obviate the need for configuration management, systems engineering or integration; it just changes its character and context.

Milspecs; certifications on contract; misapplied tech mandates. In these and other areas, we continue to fall prey to the one size fits all syndrome. But one size rarely fits all and the assumption that it does is an often destructive oversimplification in a world where little is nearly that simple.

Death of a Salesman, or Death of a Company?

I have been having conversations with numerous employees and other company leadership about the meaning of individual excellence versus organizational excellence. The reason is because when I was growing up, it was not uncommon for our parents to work for one company for most of their lives. In those days, the company was considered a part of the family, where people stayed and continued to support because the company cared about them, and took responsibility for them by providing benefits, job security, training, commitment and promotional growth. Ultimately our parents stayed because they were providing their customers the same thing the company was giving to them, good feelings and sense of ownership. Unless something significantly changed, the company was rewarded by customer loyalty because of the outstanding service they received and the good feelings inspired by the attention of the employees — attention that arose from the organizational and individual excellence provided.

Times have changed, particularly in the government services market. Loyalty to the company is all but gone. The customer no longer sees the company for what it was and is, a key part of the service its employees provide, which includes an understanding of customer needs, corporate knowledge and uninterrupted support. Instead, the company has become a warehouse, where people who meet minimal expectations, who possess minimal qualifications, and work for minimal dollars are waiting for the next company to win their customer’s work. The customer has set the standard, but in so doing, they have destroyed the company as we once knew it, as well as the reason a company exists — to hire and attract people who can dedicate their time to the goals of the company and create individual excellence, and ultimately, organizational excellence.

For years federal government customers awarded contracts based on a firm’s past performance or what the organization brought (people, management, historical performance, innovation, etc.) to meet the stated goals and expectations, assuming a reasonable price. In today’s environment, the customer does not value what the company brings. Instead, it values the incumbent workforce, regardless of how employees will be treated once they are forced to switch companies (i.e., reduction of salary, benefits, tenure and no promotional opportunity). What happened to the meaning and importance of organizational excellence versus individual excellence in the federal market?

In his best-selling book, In Search of Excellence, Tom Peters says “there is no such thing as excellent organizations, only those that believe in continuous improvement.” In my view, excellence starts with the organization, but it must include individual excellence, which is a culture that is built from the top down in an atmosphere where continuous improvement and the quality of performance are the cornerstones of the organization. Peters notes:

“The pursuit of excellence, in any form can be considered an ambitious and often challenging undertaking. It implies the ability to perform at a consistently high level, which must depend on the ability to master the fundamental tasks you are doing, provide quality solutions using best practices, and measure performance. This accentuates the importance and value of a culture of continuous improvement in people, processes and the organization.”

Companies recognize that organizational excellence is challenging because of the consistent level of commitment, cooperation and alignment required of so many people. But to get organizational excellence, you need individuals who are dedicated to the company and have a shared vision that provides the focus required to help “make it happen.” Without a strong individual commitment to this shared vision, there is little hope for a company to create a strong and prosperous future that contributes to the organizational success. At the same time, Peters says:

“The pursuit of individual excellence without regard for its impact on team or organizational performance and other parts of the organization should be discouraged. This is one of the trade-offs employees make when they join a company. They give up some of their freedom to do exactly what they wish, and the company agrees to cooperate with them in the pursuit of shared goals. This does not rule out the pursuit of individual excellence, but it does mean we must define individual excellence in the context of organizational performance.”

Moving people to the next company does not guarantee organizational excellence. Most employees want a career where they have consistency in employment, the opportunity to provide quality results, growth in responsibility, and a culture of organizational commitment. Instead, in today’s environment, individuals are continually starting over, resulting in indifference and despondent attitudes due to lack of consistency and future growth.

Our federal customers’ measure of success is the number of incumbent employees placed on the contract, not the commitment, knowledge, loyalty and excellence these employee obtained because they were a part of a company who has proven organizational excellence. But to destroy the excellence our companies have built for years diminishes the value the individual brings and ultimately, what the company brings. The bottom line is that our customers’ disregard for the organizational aspect the company brings will limit the level of commitment and excellence the individual needs. Worse yet, the company will have no purpose, no vision, and no incentive to continue, since personal and organizational growth is not an option.

We have come a long way from where our parents were, but unfortunately it is the wrong way. Without the dedication of the company to the individual, individual excellence will not be achieved. Without the dedication of the employee to the company, organizational excellence will not be achieved and the company may not survive. By changing our customers’ view and bringing to their attention that individual excellence alone will not meet their needs, companies can succeed. Aristotle is quoted as saying: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit.” It’s that simple, clear, concise and applicable at all levels of excellent organizations. Our customers need to understand this.

This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Service Contractor, a publication of the Professional Services Council.