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Hamre Updates Defense Reform Initiative

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Belgium, July 21, 1998 – The Defense Reform Initiative is making good progress, despite its share of setbacks, according to Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre.

"A lot of business process changes are really moving ahead," he said, during a recent trip to Europe. "A lot of it is not glamorous stuff headlines are written about, but little steps that are going to make a difference."

Hamre spearheaded the reform initiative announced in November 1997. Since mid-May, it has been in the hands of a full-time director, retired Navy Rear Adm. William P. Houley.

"It was kind of frustrating, because I was trying to monitor it on a part-time basis," Hamre said. "Bill Houley is now responsible on a day-to-day basis, and he's doing a great job."

Known as the "DRI," the program aims to adopt private-sector best-business practices and consolidate and streamline organizations. It also calls for opening more defense jobs to private competition and eliminating excess infrastructure. The goal is to do business better, faster and cheaper, thereby saving money that can be used to modernize the armed forces, Hamre said.

He cited the June 5 opening of the Joint Electronic Commerce Program Office as an example of the program's recent success. The office specializes in computerized buying and selling and was created to help move DoD to paperless contracting.

"I'm very happy with what we're doing with electronic commerce," Hamre said. "That really is starting to take off. We are now, in lots of areas, able to do the entire process without it ever turning into paper. The advantage of that is not that we're avoiding paper, but that it's forcing us to rethink our business practices."

Downsizing the Office of the Secretary of Defense and other agencies is on schedule, Hamre said. The reform plan calls for a one-third cut of the secretary's headquarters staff of 3,000 within 18 months and one-fifth cut of the defense agencies' staffs within five years. Personnel in field activities are to be cut 36 percent in the next two years. The reduction goals are 10 percent for military service headquarters and 7 percent for the Joint Staff by 2003.

Hamre said he's pleased with the new Defense Threat Reduction Agency, set up to consolidate DoD's treaty monitoring and threat reduction efforts. "We're going to do a better job getting ready for the future and save money because [in the past,] we've had some uncoordinated and sometimes competing efforts."

The effort to privatize more government jobs through "A-76" competitions hit a few snags -- a mix of success and resistance, Hamre said. A-76 is the nickname for a process that identifies a job and compares in-house and contractor costs of doing it.

"We definitely have pushed the process and we dramatically have more A-76 competitions under evaluation," he said. All the services are pressing ahead with their plans. The Army even increased its goal for A-76 competitions, he said.

"When we launched the Defense Reform Initiative, we were hoping to compete 150,000 jobs," Hamre said. "Right now, we plan on competing over 220,000 jobs. Our expectation is we will open for competition some 30,000 jobs this year.

On the down side, however, Hamre said, local workers are complaining to Congress. "They are linking A-76 competitions with base closures, which is quite unfair," he said. "We have had very senior members of the administration team being called up to explain why we're competing five jobs.

It's really crazy. The best thing they can do to save their base is to become more efficient through the A-76 process, he said. They should view this as an opportunity. But there definitely is resistance."

The DRI's biggest setback to date is DoDs failure to win congressional approval for two more rounds of base closures, Hamre said. DoD argued that closing unneeded bases would save the money needed to pay for modernization programs.

"We fought hard, he said. The House of Representatives wouldn't even consider it. In the Senate, we failed on a tie vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee, so it's not even in the bill. That's a major disappointment."

Professional development for DoD civilians is another area that has not progressed as quickly as the deputy would like. "We'd hoped to pull together a coherent and much more challenging professional development program for our civil servants," Hamre said. "We're about six months behind on that. It took us awhile to get ourselves organized."

Despite these setbacks, he said, he and other defense leaders are encouraged by the efforts under way and the success so far. In the days ahead, he said, "There will be a lot of changes -- I think most of them for the better -- not all, but most of them."

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