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Defense Secretary's Commentary Makes Case for Department's Transformation

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2003 – For the Pentagon to meet the challenges of the future, it cannot be "anchored to the past," wrote Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in a commentary he provided to several newspapers around the country recently.

"While our troops operate in a fast-paced world of high-tech weaponry and precision-guided munitions, the men and women who support them here at home still slog through red tape and regulations that are, in some cases, decades old," he wrote. "We must be as agile, flexible, and adaptable as the forces we field in battle."

Pentagon officials said the letter was an effort to garner congressional support for the Defense Transformation Act, which seeks legislation to overhaul the Pentagon's personnel system and relax some environmental laws affecting training and military readiness.

Rumsfeld wrote that Congress must soon decide whether the Defense Department "has what it needs to support our forces in the 21st century security environment we have entered or remains mired in the systems and processes of the century just past."

Citing what he called "outdated regulations," the secretary noted that more than 80 percent of civilians deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom were contractors doing jobs Defense Department civilians "could and should be doing."

Because the Pentagon lacks "sufficient authority" to manage its civilian workforce, Rumsfeld wrote, some 200,000 reserve troops left jobs and families to help fight the war on terrorism while an estimated 300,000 active-duty military people occupy staff positions here at home that could be filled by civilians.

To demonstrate how he believes age-old bureaucratic processes are crippling his department, Rumsfeld wrote it takes, on average, "five months to hire a federal employee, 18 months to fire one, and collective bargaining with more than 1,300 separate local unions to implement critically needed reforms -- negotiations that sometimes take years to accomplish."

Personnel issues are not the only problems the Pentagon must address, Rumsfeld wrote. The secretary acknowledged it now takes his department twice the time it took in 1975 to produce a new weapons system; that 1,800 different and antiquated systems run Pentagon finance and accounting programs; and that it take thousands of people -- "only a fraction of whom are focused on implementation and outcomes" -- to develop and justify a budget.

The Defense Transformation Act would create a new national security personnel system that would enable the department to attract and hire new employees more easily, Rumsfeld wrote. It also would promote and reward employees based on excellence and performance, and would allow the Pentagon to negotiate with six national unions rather than some 1,300 local units.

Measures in the act would give the Pentagon "financial flexibility" to respond to urgent needs, and would get rid of "onerous regulations" that impede commerce with small companies, Rumsfeld wrote. He added the act also would get military personnel out of nonmilitary jobs and "back in the field to train like they fight, fight like they train," while still upholding the Pentagon's commitment to protecting the environment.

He wrote that while the Defense Department, which he called a "well-established champion of environment stewardship," does not seek relief from environmental laws and regulations, a few well-meaning but ambiguous laws are impeding the military's ability to train forces by "threatening not only their readiness but their lives on the battlefield."

Rumsfeld wrote that security challenges facing the United States have changed dramatically in recent years, and that the nation "must change to meet them -- not only on the battlefield, but in the bureaucracy."

"Transformation of our military capabilities depends upon our ability to transform the department that runs the military-- the Department of Defense," the secretary wrote.

He emphasized that Congress has a "vital role to play" in providing new authorities and relaxing or eliminating old restrictions that will allow the Defense Department to meet the "threats to freedom already before us as well as those that are certain to arise."

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