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Rumsfeld and the Bureaucracy

Heavy armor has not been sent as quickly as possible to our troops in Iraq.  That fact has been established beyond doubt.  It was wrong for a reporter to use a soldier as his mouthpiece in getting a question on that subject to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.  But the question was legitimate, and it generated national attention to a real problem.  The key question is, who should be held accountable?

One answer is Rumsfeld.  But stories about this controversy have been unfair to the defense secretary in that they do not recognize that he has been waging war on the Pentagon bureaucracy–and the war continues.

We found a speech by Rumsfeld on this subject on–remember the date–September 10, 2001.  He declared, “The battle against bureaucracy is a moral imperative because the lives of Americans depend on it.  The modernization of the Department of Defense is a matter of some urgency–in fact, it is a matter of life and death, ultimately, every American’s.  Above all, the shift from bureaucracy to battlefield is a matter of national security.  In this period of limited funds, we need every nickel–every good idea–every innovation–every effort–to help modernize and transform the U.S. military.”

Rumsfeld declared that, “We maintain 20 to 25 percent more base infrastructure than we need to support our forces, at an annual waste to taxpayers of some $3 billion to $4 billion.  Fully half of our resources go to infrastructure and overhead, and in addition to draining resources from war fighting, these costly and outdated systems, procedures and programs stifle innovation as well.  A new idea must often survive the gauntlet of some 17 levels of bureaucracy to make it from a line officer’s desk to my desk.  I have too much respect for a line officer to believe that we need 17 layers between us.”

These are just excerpts from the speech, which is almost 4,000 words in length.  Rumsfeld took office as the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs was preparing to release a report entitled, “Government at the Brink,” which stated, “There is widespread agreement that the Department of Defense finances are a shambles. It wastes billions of dollars each year, and can not account for much of what it spends.”  One of the hand-outs from the committee was a diagram of the system used by the Defense Department to track contract and vendor payments.  It looked like several spider webs superimposed on each other.  The report said that officials at DoD are making more than 57,000 purchases a day.  “Unfortunately,” it added, “these same officials can’t tell us what they bought and whether they even needed what they got.”

In light of these facts, is it any wonder that our troops aren’t getting enough of certain equipment?  Rumsfeld had outlined his major reforms one day before the terrorists hit us on 9/11.  Then it became absolutely essential to mobilize our military resources to strike Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.  After that came the war in Iraq.  This is not to say that the reform plans were discarded.  But it’s clear they weren’t carried out in their entirety.  The media should give Rumsfeld credit for recognizing the problem and  trying to fix it.