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"Developing 21st Century DoD SES Leaders" Conference
As Delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England, Washington, D.C., Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Thank you to Mike Dominguez for the Introduction, and for the opportunity to be here today.  Thank you also for the great job you’ve done with the Air Force – for all your hard work and dedication. 

I was a member of the Senior Executive Service – for five days.  I do hang that certificate in my office, because I am proud of the accomplishments of the SES.  You are the cornerstone of the Department, and you are all vitally important to its success. 

Now I’m from Texas.  And out in West Texas, there was this ne’er-do-well, a cattle rustler, and they were getting ready to hang him.  The scaffold was up in the town square and everybody was waiting.  So the Sheriff asks this ne’er-do-well, “Do you have anything to say before we hang you?”  And he answers, “I got nuttin’ to say.”  But then a guy in the crowd jumps up and says, “Hey!  I’d like to use his time… to talk about restructuring the SES corps!”  The Sheriff says, “That’s okay by me.” He turns to the ne’er-do-well and asks, “Do you have a problem with that?”  And the guy says, “No – Just hang me first!” 

You’ve got hard work ahead of you today, and I’ll try to frame some of the issues for you.  The agenda today is rather unusual.  Instead of having others expound, you will play a role in helping the Department determine how to provide an environment in which all can excel.  We used the same approach for NSPS.  The objective there was not to implement NSPS, but to create a mechanism so that everyone could excel every day at their work. 

First I’d like to say a few words about where the Department is headed.  America is fighting a Long War, different from the wars of the past.  In the old wars, there were lots of casualties, in single battles.  In this war that we’ve been fighting for four years, there’ve been a little less than two thousand combat deaths.  In future wars, there are not likely to be large numbers of casualties in any given battle.  But those casualties could be transferred to a city in the US, or somewhere around the world. 

Think about 9/11.  3,000 were lost.  My view is that the reason we lost 3,000 was that the terrorists didn’t know how to kill 30,000, or 300,000, or 3M.  But they would have if they could have, and they are still trying. 

This is a different kind of war.  It is a war for all of us.   But in general, our views of war are tempered by experience.  The word “war” brings up images that do not apply today. 

The challenges in this war are asymmetric.  People say, “It will not happen.”  But Japan used biological weapons against China in the 1930’s, and killed tens of thousands of people.  That is why it is so important to make sure that the wrong people do not get the wrong weapons.

I just read an article by the father of Todd Beamer, who was on flight 93.  He wrote that the terrorists do not want our land or any of our assets in the United States – they want to change our way of life. 

In America, we live from election to election, but I will tell you, the people who are after us have a 1000-year timeline.  They think in a much longer-term way than we do. 

This is a war of will, dedication and commitment.  The Cold War was not about a single President, or Congress, or Party.  It was about successive Presidents and Congresses who shared the common goal of protecting and defending America.  Today, every IED attack in Iraq or Afghanistan is an attack on the will of the American people. 

Last year in the QDR, we looked at the terrorist threat, but we also recognized state-based threats – like North Korea and Iran.  Today the statements of the President of Iran talk about destroying not just Israel but also the US.  So our challenges are not just asymmetrical but also about nation-states.  In the QDR we talk about nations “at the crossroads” – ascending in power and influence – and we want them to turn out right.  China is a good case – and the question is how to help steer them into being a wholesome contributor to the world community. 

The QDR also looked at another concern, defending America and our homeland. 

This QDR – unlike the last QDR of 2001 – also looked at the other side of the coin.  One side is the strategic direction for the US military.  The other is the processes, structures and organizations we use to manage carrying out the QDR.  We do need an agile, adaptable military that can adjust in two days.  But if it takes the Department two years to support that military, then we’ve gained very little. 

That’s where you come in, helping us define how to operate in the future.  You are a key part of the leadership, so we do need your comments, critiques and recommendations for restructuring the Department, and especially its most important part, its human capital. 

A few comments about leadership…

Napoleon defined leadership.  He said, “Leaders are dealers in hope”.  Their view of the future is always hopeful. 

Now, the key to leadership is integrity.  President Eisenhower said, “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity.  Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on …a football field, in an army, or in an office.”  Many of you already know my Mother’s view – when we were growing up, we could do anything we wanted, as long as we didn’t embarrass her. 

At his Inaugural address, the President said, “In America’s ideal of freedom, the public interest depends on private character – on integrity and tolerance toward others and the rule of conscience in our own lives.” 

In my view, corruption is the biggest threat to freedom and liberty.  I cannot stress enough the importance of integrity and ethical behavior, and you need to set the standards.

Leaders get to broadcast - leadership gives you a platform.  You get to magnify things, so that others hear you.  But it works both ways – you are also magnified.  So tiny indiscretions look large, and small lapses are magnified.  Rightly so.

Mike [Dominguez, referring to Secretary England’s Leadership Principles in his Introduction] said, “No one’s more important than anyone else.”  A lot of people would say, “Sure they are.”  But that’s not the case – some positions are more important, because they have more authority and responsibility, but the people in them are not more important.  I am not the Deputy Secretary of Defense.  I hold the office of the Deputy Secretary of Defense.  All the authority and responsibility are in that office.  It is a subtle point – but an important one.

Now, let’s talk about DoD, a complex organization.  The mission is technical, and constantly changing.  In my experience in industry, in most of the companies I dealt with, we had three or five groups of unionized employees.  DoD has 43, one indicator of its complexity.  This is a gigantic challenge! 

DoD also has what I call a triumvirate leadership structure:  political appointees – they are brought in and their average tenure is about two years – the senior military, and the SES.  It is vitally important for these three to be together in their mission and purpose. 

Mike [Dominguez] mentioned effectiveness and efficiency.  Do not aim to save money – always decide to improve effectiveness.  Invariably, when you improve effectiveness, efficiency will follow and you will save money. 

So how should the Department grow its senior leaders?  

There are basic differences among the military, industry and the SES.  In the military, you start with young officers, they learn basic knowledge, they go through boards, and they go forward through a number of steps.  The process never stops – even three-star generals go to school.

It is completely different for SESs and in the commercial world.  Studies of executives invariably show that executives do stop learning.  In the military, you have to keep learning, and we need that in the SES ranks. 

Right now, it seems to me that the process is more ad hoc than strategic, for the SES corps.  Today, in my judgment, the SES is selected to meet specific needs, when there is a specific role to be filled.  Typically, the successful candidate is an incumbent. 

I am also not sure that we have a good way to grow people up into the SES ranks.  How did you get where you are?  Perhaps you were selected carefully over time, but my impression is that that is rare.  There is no strategic process for training, education and rotation. 

Once you get to be an SES, there are some opportunities to continue to grow, but what is that mechanism for growing in craft and skill?  Again, it seems ad hoc. 

In my judgment, we need to think more about rotation.  When I was jotting down notes for this talk a few days ago, I realized that I have spent about four years in each position I’ve held, until I got to government.  There is value in gaining different experiences.

The SES corps does tend to be somewhat insular, and it can be very hard to bring in new talent.  DARPA has a good model for doing it.  It would help, if we could bring in highly specialized staff for specific tasks, to augment our own. 

There are a lot of issues, and you need to help us think them through. 

Winston Churchill said, “Criticism is easy – achievement is difficult”.  I say it another way:  “It is extraordinarily easy to destroy value, and extraordinarily difficult to build value.”  You have to be very careful dealing with institutions like the SES corps, thoughtful not to destroy the value we already have. 

There is no right or wrong way – there are just some better ways.  The question is, what are the benefits and the downsides, so you can make sure you have the best alternative.

I leave you with one last thought.  The SES corps is a corporate asset.  We need to preserve that.  Here is what is most important – this is not about you.  These decisions are about your children and grandchildren.  This is about preserving liberty and freedom for generations of Americans.  Future generations rely on what we do.