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England Highlights Need for Less Structure, Right People

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 26, 2007 – “Less is better” when it comes to managing the Defense Department, the deputy secretary of defense told the House Armed Services Committee today during a hearing aimed at improving the department’s management.

Gordon England said he would "much rather have a high degree of flexibility in the department for both the secretary and the deputy to have an adaptable organization," rather than one that is overly structured. 

In May, the House passed a 2008 Defense Authorization Bill based on management recommendations from the Institute for Defense Analysis and the Government Accountability Office. The Senate has introduced a similar bill that has yet to be debated.

“I don't believe, frankly, either bill is actually needed in the department,” England said.

Outlining his management philosophy to the committee, England said he prefers simplicity over a structure that’s hampered by complicated bureaucracy. Upon taking his job, he noted, one of his initiatives was to cut down on the internal directives that burden the department with excessive rules and regulations.

“The department already has a lot of structure,” he said. “If anything, we have too much structure and we have a lot of rules and regulations that we go by ... So we have been working very hard to reduce our own directives in trying to shrink the bureaucracy as much as possible.”

To underscore the department’s existing complexity, England told the committee that the department oversees 600,000 facilities in 146 countries, including 44 major operating commands. The Army alone has seven combat training areas, 11 depots, 14 institutes, 19 laboratories and 93 medical centers in addition to all of their major commands, he said.

Though conventional wisdom often suggests that changing an organization will lead to a more efficient system, attaining proper leadership is more important, England said.

“The organization's not nearly as important as the leadership and the people who populate that organization, so frankly my emphasis is getting the right people,” he said. “Right people can withstand any organization, but not vice versa.”

England said that any organizational change should be made carefully. “I believe there's fundamental questions about what the structure should be, but I'll tell you, I am very hesitant to make significant changes without a really good pilot and understanding outcomes because my own experience is it is very easy to destroy value and extraordinarily hard to create value,” he said.

The Defense Business Systems Management Committee, the Business Transformation Agency and the Deputy's Advisory Working Group are “horizontal integrating elements” that tie together the department’s structure, England said.

“We have put structure in place so that we get horizontal interconnects, and so we get better awareness and understanding throughout the organization,” he said. “And in my judgment, those approaches are far more valuable than anything we do with structure itself.”

Speaking about the servicemembers and civilians who fulfill the Defense Department’s mission, England said that “we are absolutely blessed as a nation.”

“If it wasn't for their work, we couldn't have our people at the front line, doing the job they do,” he said. “That's really where we place our emphasis -- on providing an environment for every one of those people to excel every day for their nation.”

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Gordon England

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Speech: Statement of the Honorable Gordon England

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