Defense Department, People, Policy

Obama administration's slow going on appointments impacts DOD programs

There’s been some significant reporting on how the slow pace of the Obama administration’s formal nomination of political appointees is affecting policy initiatives across government.  But it’s particularly an issue in the DOD, where 40% of the politically appointed positions remain unfilled.  Among them is the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration–the DOD CIO.  That’s surprising, considering how quickly the president appointed a government-wide CIO, and the high priority that information technology has in his administration’s Defense policy.

There was a long delay in the appointment and confirmation of DOD Undersecretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Dr. Ashton Carter, as well.  With him just settling into the job at the tail end of the DOD 2010 budget process, and the Quadrennial Defense Review underway,  there’s something of a power vacuum in key positions, with “acting” career civil servants marking time.  While having the “actings” in charge isn’t an issue that impacts day-to-day operations–the career civilians and military officers within the OSD and JCS certainly have that covered — it’s having an impact on the forward progress of a number of programs.

One example is the DOD’s Net Enabled Command Capability.  In July, frustrated with the lack of leadership on fixing the program, which had failed to make its Milestone B last year and was suffering from a lack of high-level leadership on management of the program, the Senate Armed Services Committee essentially killed the program. And the Air Force KC-X program, in perpetual turnaround under the Bush administration, still lacks a new acquisition strategy.

But more disconcerting is the lack of a strong DOD assistant secretary for NII, considering how strongly DOD has focused on cyber. While the creation of a new sub-unified command for cyber operations signals a political commitment to developing a cyber capability, the political appointee who would have the most day-to-day involvement with that initiative has yet to materialize.

It’s clear that part of the problem the administration is facing is its tight ethics rules.  The “revolving door” restrictions, while they are well-intended, are making it hard to find people with the experience in the areas of expertise the DOD needs.  One need only to look at the machinations surrounding the Lynn nomination to the Deputy Secretary of Defense post to see why a professional IT executive with familiarity with the DOD’s operations might pass up a chance to be ASD-NII.

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