Rumsfeld’s Revolution

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Paul Light of Brookings takes a closer look at Donald Rumsfeld’s “military transformation” project and concludes that the transformation is actually coming along better than people think, despite considerable obstacles, and Rumsfeld really is transforming the Pentagon’s vast bureaucratic structure into something more agile, more able to adapt to threats of the future, and whatnot. I’ll leave it to Fred Kaplan to explain why this might not actually be the case. For now, just a small nitpick.

Most of Light’s examples to bolster his argument consist of dry personnel details—the number of senior executives has fallen from 361 to 284, for instance—but then there’s a bit on private contracting. “Why is the Defense Department,” asked Rumsfeld, “one of the last organizations that still cuts its own checks?” The idea is that outsourcing various tasks—like setting up camps or cooking meals—will free up soldiers to do fighting and other more important jobs. Fair enough, but no one seems to know whether outsourcing these tasks actually saves money. Contractors like KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton, tend to operate on a “cost-plus” contract, meaning that they get covered for all expenses plus a guaranteed profit, so they have little incentive to keep things as efficient as possible. And the military often must pay extra for security and insurance, as they have in Iraq. Meanwhile, Peter Singer has discussed the various problems with relying to heavily on private contractors to do military tasks. That’s not to say that private contractors are never a good idea, but the generally unquestioned sense that outsourcing is an inherently more “modern,” and hence more efficient, way of doing business seems in need of a bit more scrutiny.

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