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Robert Gates sounds off (again)

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Robert Gates was back in Washington this evening with a display of the understated candor that was a trademark during his five years as secretary of defense. It was Gates, after all, who last year described members of Congress as a group “with oversized egos and undersized backbones”—a line he cheerfully repeated during tonight’s award ceremony hosted by the National Academy of Public Administration.

Gates, on hand to receive the academy’s Elliot L. Richardson Prize for excellence in public service, spoke during a wide-ranging question-and-answer session with James Kitfield, senior correspondent at National Journal. Here are a few other excerpts:

* On the similarities between the CIA, Defense Department and Texas A&M University, all of which Gates headed during his long career: “In all three places, most of the people you work with have tenure. They’re there before you got there and they will be there after you leave. If you really want to change something, you’d better make them your partners in change.”

* On canning people: “I don’t think I fired anybody because they didn’t know about a problem. . . . What I fired them for was once they knew about it, they didn’t take it seriously.”

* On the increasing polarization of American politics: “I am very worried.  It’s because we’ve got a situation where compromise has become synonymous with selling out or abandoning your principles. If you want highly ideological politics, go to France—those guys perfected it.”

The ceremony was held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in downtown Washington.

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Friday Fun: SecDef Comedy Jam

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"Boy, it's rough in the Pentagon, rough I tells ya..."

The Washington Post today has an amusing piece on Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ penchant for corny, corny jokes about Washington.

Even Gates’ loyal speechwriters try to strike the zingers — such as “Washington … a place where people say ‘I’ll double-cross that bridge when I come to it’ ” — from his prepared remarks, but Gates puts them back in. (Poor Bob gets no respect. But at least it’s better than Don Rumsfeld’s found poetry.)

Give a listen to Sirius XM’s compilation of the SecDef’s greatest hits here. (My favorite part is the overdubbed guy bellowing “Yeah yeah!” At least, I hope he’s overdubbed, and not actually Gates.)

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Bulk of BTA workforce comes from contractors

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Almost two-thirds of the workforce at the Business Transformation Agency, a Pentagon shop slated for the chopping block, is made up of contract employees, according to figures obtained by Federal Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

Of 1,124 workers, 725 are contractors, 375 are civilian and 24 are military personnel, the figures show. In announcing his decision to close BTA within the next year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last month that the agency employed “approximately 360 people.” Gates was apparently referring only to government civilian employees.

Federal Times filed the FOIA request after repeated attempts to obtain the workforce information from Gates’ office went unanswered. So far, no response from a Pentagon spokeswoman this afternoon on the contractor ratio.

Although BTA was created several years ago to modernize DoD’s business practices, Gates said at the Aug. 9 news conference that its focus had shifted more “to day-to-day oversight of individual acquisition programs, a function that can be performed by a number of other organizations.”

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Procurement scandals, Onion-style

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"Dynamite Joe" in Juarez/The Onion

Happy Friday! To ease you into your Labor Day weekend, enjoy a few headlines from The Onion, such as “Pentagon Ripped Off By Shady Weapons Dealer:”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitted losing $192 million in defense funds Tuesday when he unwittingly purchased a large number of bogus BGM-109 Tomahawk missiles from a disreputable arms dealer known only as “Steve.” “When I got the crate open at the office, it turned out the ‘missiles’ were nothing more than old sewer pipes filled with newspapers and capped with construction cones, all painted to look legit,” Gates said.

That’s probably the Onion’s best weapons acquisition story since last year’s “Obama Axes Pentagon Plan To Build Billion Dollar Tank In Shape of Dragon.”

And while we’re at it, their gloriously insane send-ups of Joe Biden continue in “Biden To Cool His Heels in Mexico For A While” (link contains profanity):

“I need to steer clear of D.C. until some **** blows over,” said Biden, sitting in the far corner of a Mexican cantina with his back to the wall and taking a long swig from a bottle of Tecate Light. “It’s nothing I can’t handle, but let’s just say there was a little misunderstanding. Somebody didn’t get something they were supposed to get.”

“And somebody else got a whole lot more than they bargained for,” he added.

[...] On Tuesday, the Senate received a postcard of topless women wearing green, red, and white bikini bottoms from Biden. A personal message apologized for his extended absence and provided contact information and instructions to call his buddy Blaze if they needed a tiebreaking vote.

Have a great weekend! FedLine will be back on Tuesday.

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Defense contractor not fazed by proposed defense cuts

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Who’s worried about the impact of Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ proposed Pentagon belt-tightening?

Not, apparently, CACI International, Inc., the Arlington Va.,-based defense contractor that has a stake in some of the programs and offices to be axed.

In a recent statement on CACI’s 4th quarter and full fiscal year 2010 results, President and CEO Paul Cofoni said the company expects only “negligible impact” from Gates’ decision to eliminate Joint Forces Command, the Office for Network and Information Integration and the J-6.  CACI has also been informed, he added, “that the work we do for the Business Transformation Agency will continue following its transition to other organizations.”

Gates announced the cuts Aug 9 as part of an economy drive to steer more money to force structure and modernization. CACI’s work is oriented toward professional services and information technology; in 2008, it was one of six companies to share in a BTA contract for support “in the area of thought leadership and change management” worth up to $260 million over five years.

CACI’s relatively optimistic outlook raises the question, however, of exactly how much the Defense Department stands to save from Gates’ proposals. As far as we at Fedline know, the Pentagon has yet to supply a dollar figure. A Defense Department spokeswoman did not reply to e-mail and voicemail messages Friday.

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Pentagon: Congressional opposition helped kill DCIPS

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The Pentagon just posted an action plan online that discusses how it will wind down the pay-for-performance elements of the the Defense Civilian Intelligence Personnel System. Interestingly enough, the report says there were three leading factors that caused Defense Secretary Robert Gates to scratch pay-for-performance, even though a NAPA report advised against it:

  • First, the operational tempo in Defense’s intelligence agencies is so high that making such a major change — especially when employees are so concerned about it — could distract employees from their mission.
  • Second, “congressional support necessary to undertake and support such a change at this time is mixed at best.” Reading between the lines, it sounds like the level of opposition on Capitol Hill to continuing DCIPS must have been significant.
  • And lastly, Gates noted that the non-intelligence parts of the department are moving away from pay-for-performance as the National Security Personnel System ends. And that could complicate matters if pay-for-performance employees work side-by-side with employees who were shifted back to the General Schedule and receive regular pay raises each year.

Defense also said it will publish a comprehensive change management plan by Oct. 31 that sets a process and timeline for moving DCIPS employees to a GS-like structure. Those employees will be classified as GG employees.

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Gates on Pentagon budget: “The gusher has been turned off”

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Defense Secretary Robert Gates

Defense Secretary Robert Gates delivered a tough message earlier today for his department’s bureaucracy (not to mention its contractors): The spending spree is over. Read an account of his Kansas speech and some of his planned changes at our sister publication, Military Times, here. And the Washington Post’s article has this interesting detail on contracting:

Among Gates’s apparent targets for major cuts are the private contractors the Pentagon has hired in large numbers over the past decade to take on administrative tasks that the military used to handle. The defense secretary estimated that this portion of the Pentagon budget has grown by as much as $23 billion, a figure that does not include the tens of billions of dollars spent on private firms supporting U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The defense contractors, who populate new office towers throughout Washington’s suburbs and have been a major driver of the local economy, are a significant source of budgetary bloat, Gates said. “We ended up with contractors supervising other contractors — with predictable results,” he said in the speech Saturday.

The WaPo said Gates is prepared to stay on past this year to make sure his changes stick. Since defense spending is often viewed as sacrosanct in American politics, this could be the first shot fired in a major budgetary war.

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Defense to insource acquisition support

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Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he will convert 11,000 acquisition contracting jobs to Defense employees and hire 9,000 more government acquisition staff by 2015. He plans to start with 4,100 employees in fiscal 2010, the budget he presented at a news conference today.

You can read his full budget speech here.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Gates on "baroque" defense procurement

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Elise mentioned last week that procurement reform is a top priority for Defense secretary Robert Gates.

Gates expands on that idea in a lengthy article on defense strategy in the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs. He notes that “resources are not unlimited,” and argues that current procurement focuses on buying smaller amounts of more and more expensive military equipment.

The Defense Department has to consider whether in situations in which the United States has total air dominance, it makes sense to employ lower-cost, lower-tech aircraft that can be employed in large quantities and used by U.S. partners. This is already happening now in the field with Task Force ODIN in Iraq, which has mated advanced sensors with turboprop aircraft to produce a massive increase in the amount of surveillance and reconnaissance coverage. The issue then becomes how to build this kind of innovative thinking and flexibility into the rigid procurement processes at home. The key is to make sure that the strategy and risk assessment drive the procurement, rather than the other way around

The whole article is worth a read. Gates took a lot of criticism last year for halting the F-22 procurement program — but he seems willing to make more of those tough calls once President-elect Obama takes office.


Gates: Acquisition reform a "high priority"

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Defense Secretary Robert Gates pledged to give more personal attention to procurement and acquisition challenges as he continues his work under the Obama administration. Here is what he had to say during a media briefing yesterday:

I suppose it should go without saying, but I have no intention of being a caretaker secretary. Our challenges, from the budget to acquisition and procurement reform, war strategy, care of wounded warriors, meeting the needs of warfighters, decisions on important modernization and capitalization projects and more, all demand the personal attention of the secretary of Defense and they will get it.

When asked what immediate changes will be seen under the Obama administration, Gates again said procurement and acquisition reform would be “a high priority given our experience of the past year or so, actually, some would say, a lot longer.”

And later, talking about major acquisitions:

I think, when it comes to some of the big modernization and capitalization programs, that it would be a mistake to try and bypass the system. The key is to figure out a way to make the system work better. And I think that will be a high priority.

Contracting reform is also a key Defense agenda item for Gates’ new boss. So as far as giving acquisition attention, the pair seems to be in agreement.

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