Monday, May 14, 2012

Study This

The headline reads: “This Is Not a Joke. Government Issues a Study of a Study About Studies.”

It gets worse. This does not involve the EPA or Education or Welfare or even the Treasury. It’s the freakin’ Pentagon and the story goes like this:

“The Pentagon was inundated with so many studies in 2010 that it commissioned a study to determine how much it cost to produce all those studies.
Now the Government Accountability Office has reviewed the Pentagon’s study and concluded in a report this week that it’s a flop.
The study of a study of studies began in 2010 when Defense Secretary Robert Gates complained that his department was “awash in taskings for reports and studies.” He wanted to know how much they cost.
Two years later, the Pentagon review is still continuing, which prompted Congress to ask the GAO to look over the Pentagon’s shoulder. What they found lacked military precision.
The GAO found only nine studies that had been scrutinized by the Pentagon review, but the military was unable to “readily retrieve documentation” for six of the reports.
The Department of Defense’s “approach is not fully consistent with relevant cost estimating best practices and cost accounting standards,” the GAO concluded. In fact, they often did not include items like manpower, the report found.
The Pentagon “partially concurs” with the GAO’s report.
The cost of the study of the study of the studies was not available from the GAO.”

This is crazy. But it has to be true, because you just can’t make up stuff like this. I have concluded that our entire government and all of its agencies are in effect run by consultants who think they have an unlimited budget. In this case, Defense Secretary Gates knew there were a lot of reports and studies being done by his department. But instead of addressing the problem, he wanted to study it. And the first step in studying it was to find out how much it was costing. Either Gates wanted to make a case for reducing the volume of reports and studies or he wanted to justify increasing his budget to cover the cost of reports and studies. Or maybe Gates was just fed up and wanted to make a point before handing the keys over to Leon Panetta and leaving the building. Given that he was a Republican and a holdover from the Bush administration, my guess is that the Obama administration really did have him buried in requests for more and more information. That’s not a slam on Obama, it’s just the way politics work and it’s what happens when a new party takes over. There’s no telling how much money is spent on the information gathering process when there is a change in the White House.

When it was all said and done, the study of the study of the studies was inconclusive. We got very little out of it other than the DOD doesn’t know how to study a study of studies. We also got another example of what’s wrong with too much government having too much money AND being overly politicized. The barrage of information requests that hit Secretary Gates was all about a new administration wanting to not just cover all the bases, but to also cover their ass (CYA) and, if in the process, something turns up that might embarrass the prior administration and the other party, all the better.

In business, we also see the CYA project in operation when a new leadership team takes over an organization. I hear it all the time from newly placed executives. “You would not believe what these guys were doing”. “I don’t know how they stayed in business.” “It’s going to take a lot longer to fix this mess than I expected.” … and on it goes.
But where business differs from politics, is that the CYA/Blame The Other guy effort is just a sideshow, not the main event. When it’s all said and done, business leaders know that they must produce even after resetting expectations and making sure everyone knows what a screwed up mess they inherited. When business leaders continue to put all their energy into playing CYA/Blame The Other Guy, they soon become “the other guy”. They don’t stick around long. Ultimately, shareholders demand results, not excuses.

Citizens also demand results from their government. The problem is that we can’t agree on what those results should look like. In business, there may be some disagreement about strategy and financial objectives, but there is usually agreement about the general concepts of profitability and return on investment. The same cannot be said of our fellow Americans’ expectations of their government. To make matters worse, we essentially have only two flavors of government to choose from which further polarizes the nation.
And those “two flavors” are for the most part bought and paid for by special interests groups. Is this a great country or what?

So we end up in three camps (D’s, R’s and I’s) with two choices (D or R). Every two years we stir the full pot in the House and parts of the pot in the Senate. Every four years we stir the big Presidential pot along with all of the other pots. The politicians continue to play the CYA/Blame The Other Guy game and prepare for the next election. As long as we cannot agree on what we want from government, this is the game that will define the winners and losers in politics. There is no “hope” for “change” unless we change the game.

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