Congress abolishes DoD’s top management position without settling on alternative

The DoD Reporter’s Notebook is a weekly summary of personnel, acquisition, technology and management stories that may have fallen below your radar during the past week, but are nonetheless important. It’s compiled and published each Monday by Federal News Network DoD reporters Jared Serbu and Scott Maucione.

Congress to Pentagon: Reform thyself

Considering that last year’s Defense authorization bill explicitly said Congress intended to do away with the position of DoD chief management officer in this year’s bill, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the final legislation unveiled last week would do just that. What’s maybe more surprising is what lawmakers decided to replace the CMO’s office with: absolutely nothing.

Instead, the latest National Defense Authorization Act gives an enormous amount of discretion to President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming Defense secretary to figure out how to make things work. They will have to decide how the CMO organizations’ current responsibilities should be redistributed throughout the department — a process that has to be finished within the next year, when the position will officially be abolished.

The Defense Business Board, before President Donald Trump fired most of its members last week, had also advocated to disestablish the CMO. But the board also offered Congress and Defense policymakers three different options to make sure there still was a single accountable official focused on business reform. But lawmakers punted on that question, instead telling DoD to return to Capitol Hill with any changes in legislation the secretary thinks are necessary to wind the CMO operation down in an orderly way.

The one stipulation on the secretary’s discretion: Whoever’s going to handle any of the existing responsibilities of the CMO office can’t be someone who’s ever served as DoD Chief Management Officer.

Even while the Pentagon is spinning down its only central organization in charge of business improvements, it will also need to spend the next year building new plans for the reforms it was charged with. Another section of the bill orders the secretary to “establish policies, guidance, and a consistent reporting framework” across five “covered elements”:

  • Business systems modernization
  • Enterprise business operations process re-engineering
  • Expanded and modernized collection, management, dissemination, and visualization of data
  • Improvements in workforce training and education for business reform
  • Improvements to decision-making processes to enable cost savings, cost avoidance, or investments to develop process improvements.

Those areas closely match the current CMO’s duties, as articulated by Congress when it created the office just three years ago.

In an interview with Federal News Network earlier this year, Lisa Hershman, the incumbent CMO argued her office simply has not had enough time to accomplish the herculean task of fixing DoD’s management weaknesses, particularly since Congress has had a tendency to further reorganize the department in ways large and small during each NDAA cycle.

“The problem is they’re changing things so quickly that we don’t always get a chance to make progress,” she said in the July interview after both houses of Congress had voted to abolish her position. “[The change of responsibility for] business systems is a great example. It went into place on Jan 1, 2019, and within four months, we had NDAA language to change it back [to the CIO]. It’s very difficult to get your arms around the problem and start showing demonstrable improvement when the shifts are happening that rapidly.”

The explanatory language accompanying this year’s bill offers no comment about what Congress hopes to achieve with this year’s management reform, nor does it say explicitly why lawmakers decided to get rid of the CMO. It’s also silent on how DoD should continue to increase its oversight and management over the “fourth estate” — the Defense agencies outside the military services — in the absence of the CMO.

That issue has been a major focus for Hershman, who considers herself the de-facto “secretary of the fourth estate,” and one of Congress’ major stated reasons for creating the office in the first place. —JS


DoD survey finds military spouse quality of life declining

Military spouses are continually becoming less satisfied with military life, according to a new report from the Defense Department.

Every two years, the Pentagon takes the temperature of military spouses. DoD just released its 2019 results and it saw a pretty significant decline in satisfaction. About 56% of military spouses said they were satisfied. That’s a decline of 4% from 2017 and an 8% decrease from 2015.

Marine Corps spouses were the least satisfied of the bunch with a 53% satisfaction rate, while the Air Force was the highest with 60%. The Air Force shouldn’t take that number as a win, though — eight years ago 72% of spouses reported being satisfied.

The highest rate of satisfied spouses came from the O-4 to O-6 levels (68%), while the least satisfied were married to the E-1 to E-4 ranks (23%).

Part of the issue for military spouses may be the fact that spousal unemployment is at a level much higher (22%) than the national average and that military childcare is still tough to come by. That makes it hard for spouses to live their own lives, especially after moving to new duty stations with their service members.

One number that may be concerning for DoD is that many spouses were not aware of some of the financial assistance available to them.

A total of 46% of spouses said they were not aware of the Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts Scholarship, which provides $4,000 to the advancement of a career. Only 4% of spouses said they actually used the scholarship in the past year and 12% said they used it more than a year ago.

DoD found that it was fairly spread out in how long it took spouses to find employment after a permanent change of station. Sixteen percent said it took less than one month, 29% said it took one to four months, 21% for four-to-seven months, 9% for seven-to -0 months and 26% for more than 10 months.

About 59% of spouses favored staying in the military, a drop from 61% in 2017 and from 68% eight years ago.

The survey also took a look at what benefits spouses valued the most. Coming in at number one was access to quality health care. Spouses also highly valued job security for their service member, a good retirement plan and recreation and fitness activities

Savings on groceries and retail merchandise were lower ranked benefits.

There was some good news for military spouses. Financial comfortability remained largely the same at about 70%. — SM


Will the latest study on military women’s health actually matter?

Last month, the Defense Health Board reported there was a major flaw in the Military Health System: Its one-size-fits-all approach to health is leaving women behind.

The DHB set out a list of extensive recommendation for how to fix the problem and issued a stark reminder of how often women’s health is ignored in the military.

“The differential incidence of these conditions among active duty women have persisted despite 70 years of integration efforts and the creation of more than 10 advisory and decision-making groups, specifically created to improve active duty women’s health, fitness, safety, and performance,” the authors of the report stated. “The groups capably identified best practices and recommended their adoption. But, lacking authority and accountability, few of their recommendations have been implemented.”

This yearlong study, however, may actually make a difference. Peter Graves, a spokesman for the Defense Health Agency, said at last update, the cumulative concurrence and partial concurrence by DHA over the life of the board were 73% and 15%, respectively. Meaning the board’s recommendations might not fall by the wayside like many studies in the past.

“Recommendations will be evaluated in the light of the authority, direction, and control of the DHA,” Graves told Federal News Network. “Coordination and collaboration for identifying and minimizing practices that adversely impact and promulgating practices to benefit active duty women is a joint responsibility.”

That’s welcome news for people like Lucy Del Gaudio, a former active duty service member, sexual assault survivor and advocate for military’s women’s health.

“A lot of women would rather go off post and try to facilitate treatment in other avenues because they know they’re not going to get the fair treatment in their clinics on post,” she told Federal News Network. “I know a lot of people who don’t feel comfortable.”

Del Gaudio said much of the military and VA’s medical practices are “male-centric.”

“Sometimes if you go into a smaller clinic, they might not be equipped for a woman’s specific need,” she said.

Del Gaudio recounted experiences of women who had to be propped up on bedpans for gynecological examinations for lack of proper medical tools.

She said that takes a serious toll on retention, when women are constantly running into obstructions to care.

DHB said it wasn’t just care that was the issue.

Clothing and armor made for men cause issues for women, the lack of proper footwear and the need for better support through sports bras also contribute.

Access to contraceptive services and sexual education differs between services and influences the rate of unintended pregnancies, the board states.

There is also variability in screening protocols for eating disorders — a mental health issue that disproportionately affects women — which causes “stark differences” in the reported prevalence of diagnoses, the board said.

Those issues compounded with sexual harassment and assault, and the higher prevalence of women to leave the military for family reasons results in many fewer women staying in the service and reaching leadership positions.

DHB made a slew of recommendations. They include establishing an overarching office to approve recommendations related to women’s health, fitness safety and performance.

The office would focus on minimizing gender-associated differences in healthcare delivery, personnel, research, supply chains and policies. It would also look for traditional male-centric values within the culture that are harming health.

DHB also suggests looking into training programs.

“Basic training and ongoing fitness-for-duty evaluations have two foundational fitness components: health fitness standards that are gender-specific, and occupationally-focused fitness standards that should be gender-neutral,” the study authors state. “A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach for health fitness contributes to training injuries in a mixed-gender population.” — SM


Air Force considering coaches for future leaders

Put me in coach! The Air Force and the military as a whole have had trouble in recent years filling certain positions. That includes cyber jobs, maintainer positions and much more. But, sometimes all you need is a little coaching to get where you want to go.

The Air Force is conducting a pilot program that gives airmen certified coaches to work with at key points in their careers.

“The coach is there to give them ideas and feedback on how to improve themselves in executing their mission, leading people, managing the resources, improving the unit, and offering observations,” said Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services.

The pilot started with 30 people, some were generals, some were senior executive service, others were colonels or chief master sergeants.

“We gave them the opportunity over a six-month period to work with those coaches, have one-on-one sessions periodically,” Kelly said. “We left it to the coaches and the individuals to decide when they would talk when they would meet what they would cover.”

The Air Force is in the process of finishing up the pilot and getting feedback.

The service hopes to open up to coaching to 10,000 to 15,000 airmen who might be in key leadership positions and could benefit from the work.

“Based on the feedback, we’re pretty excited that it is definitely a helpful and needed tool,” Kelly said. “The participants, almost without exception, saw a benefit and saw that they had a better success rate, learned faster and found more success in the new positions as a result of having the coach.”

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