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Pentagon official predicts ‘screaming and yelling’ as DOD restructures

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan says the Defense Department restructuring will centralize functions including human resources, information technology and financial management.

BRIGITTE N. BRANTLEY/U.S. AIR FORCE

By DAN LAMOTHE | The Washington Post | Published: December 22, 2017

The Defense Department will restructure its sprawling bureaucracy and implement a new National Defense Strategy next year, separate efforts that are intended to making lasting change in the Pentagon, its No. 2 official said Thursday.

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan predicted that the restructuring will be "great fodder for stories next year because you’ll probably hear screaming and yelling" among critics of the changes it spawns. It will be led by the Pentagon’s first chief management officer and will focus on centralizing functions, including human resources, information technology and financial management, Shanahan told a group of reporters at the Pentagon.

"The emphasis on the word 'restructuring’ is that we want to make sure that with the stroke of a pen or a few clicks of a keyboard, we can’t undo progress," Shanahan said. "When you think about enduring change, you have to wire or alter the work so that you don’t regress. That’s the hard part about big bureaucracy, is making enduring change."

The management officer will be John "Jay" Gibson II, who was initially appointed by President Donald Trump as deputy chief management officer. Gibson previously served as the chief executive officer at XCOR Aerospace, a start-up rocket-engine company that filed for bankruptcy last month after failing to find new investors.

His position was elevated in stature by Congress in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. The appointee in that role is expected to improve the Defense Department’s business operations. It isn’t clear whether the restructuring will include any job reductions.

The Defense Department will also unveil a new defense strategy, a document the Pentagon typically updates every 10 years to help inform its priorities.

Shanahan said the new strategy will draw on Trump’s National Security Strategy, a separate but related effort mandated by Congress that the White House released Monday. In it, Trump cast China and Russia as competitors who want to reset global power to suit them, but also as potential partners in shared interests.

The last National Defense Strategy released in June 2008 under former President George W. Bush focused heavily on efforts against "a violent extremist ideology," specifically citing al-Qaeda. But it also said the United States had an interest in balancing "the divergent needs of massively increasing energy demand to maintain economic development and the need to tackle climate change."

The Obama administration also stressed climate change in other Pentagon documents, but there will be no mention of it in the new National Defense Strategy, Shanahan said. That falls in line with Trump’s National Security Strategy, which also avoided mentioning climate change as a security threat. Trump has repeatedly questioned whether climate change is a hoax, though Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said he believes it is real and already affecting stability in the world.

Asked whether the Defense Department still believes climate change is a threat, Shanahan said that he thinks "we address it in the strategy," but that the document concentrates "on certain themes that are priorities to the building."

"There are only so many priorities you can have, and there are many, many priorities to the department, but we had to distill them into the critical few," he said. "So, it doesn’t mean that it’s not a priority, or it is a priority. What it says is that in the National Defense Strategy, we don’t address it."

The strategy will play a key role in setting priorities for what the Pentagon buys in coming years, Shanahan said. In close succession, defense officials also are expected to release broad reviews of its aging nuclear weapons program and its ballistic missile defense that will likely call for billions of dollars in upgrades.

"If real change is going to come about from the National Defense Strategy, and it’s not going to be something that’s going to sit on the shelf, then you’ve got to put resources against it," the deputy secretary said. "And the real litmus test for whether change will occur is did we put resources against that."
 

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