Inside the DoD Reporter’s Notebook – Work orders new effort to cut Pentagon’s administrative layers, reassess service contracts

Jared Serbu
Jared Serbu

“Inside the DoD’s Reporter’s Notebook” is a biweekly feature focused on news about the Defense Department and defense community, as gathered by Federal News Radio DoD Reporter Jared Serbu. Submit your ideas, suggestions and news tips to Jared via email.

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Work orders new effort to cut Pentagon’s administrative layers, reassess service contracts

Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work has already made it clear on numerous occasions that he thinks there are significant savings to be wrung from Pentagon back-office operations. But his latest initiative appears to be directly targeted at reducing headcount and addressing the perceived problem of too many supervisors and organizations managing too few front-line workers.

In a July 24 memo titled “Implementation of Institutional Reform Opportunities,” Work tasked DoD’s deputy chief management officer, Peter Levine, to come up with a “delayering” strategy for all of the organizations that fall within the sprawling Office of the Secretary of Defense, including the Defense agencies such as the Defense Information Systems Agency and Defense Logistics Agency and field activities like the DoD Education Activity and the Defense Technical Information Center.

Work told the DCMO’s office to come up with an implementation strategy for a “rationalized” Pentagon organizational chart after it conducts a thorough review of supervisors’ spans of control and the ratio of supervisors to rank-and-file employees.

The memo didn’t specify a target date for completion or the amount of savings DoD hopes to generate, but a 2014 study by the Defense Business Board estimated the department could save between $5 billion and $8 billion per year by executing the same two steps Work now is ordering: delayering the organization and increasing its remaining supervisors’ spans of control.

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VA wants to make itself more customer-focused, starting with its IT systems

When the Department of Veterans Affairs rolled out its Blue Button initiative five years ago, it was seen as something of a triumph in the world of federal information technology. Not only did it let veterans and military members download their own electronic health records for the first time via one integrated system, the data exchange model was later embraced by several private health insurers and health systems.

But Bob McDonald, the new VA secretary who arrived to rescue the department from unrelated scandals after having spent decades in the private sector, is not impressed.

Mind you, he has no complaint about the technology itself nor its functionality. But he’s baffled by the way the federal government tends to separately brand each one of its IT offerings, especially its public-facing ones.

Speaking at a Politico breakfast on Thursday, he said the name “Blue Button” is just one example of government IT services whose names don’t necessarily communicate anything to the audience they’re trying to serve, and whose continued proliferation make it harder for the public to figure out exactly which site they need to visit.

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Coast Guard chief optimistic his service will get its largest-ever acquisition budget

The Coast Guard has gotten used to the idea that when it buys a new ship, it’s going to stay in the fleet for a very long time before Congress finds the funds to replace it.

Several of the service’s large and medium sized-cutters are past or approaching their 50-year anniversaries. Or as one Coast Guard engineering officer deadpanned to a visiting congressional delegation recently, his boat is one of only a few U.S. military assets that are totally impervious to cyberattack, but that’s because there are no digital systems onboard.

But Adm. Paul Zukunft, the commandant of the Coast Guard, who relayed the above account to the National Press Club last week, said that he’s also highly optimistic that more money is coming to help recapitalize his fleet. The House and Senate have yet to agree to a 2016 appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security, but he said his discussions with leaders of both parties from the two congressional appropriations committees suggest his service will get a robust plus-up.

“I can’t share those with you, but it may bring the largest acquisition budget in the Coast Guard’s history, so I’m pretty excited about that,” he said.

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