Brent Scowcroft Center Nonresident Senior Fellows for Military Affairs and National Security Policy Nora Bensahel and David Barno write for War on the Rocks on how the US Department of Defense can address some of its bureaucratic challenges through new information technology practices:
What other U.S. business or non-profit could still be doing business the way it was in 1993 and still be in business? Contrast this with the cutting edge in the private sector. SYPartners, a design consultancy founded by former Apple executives, lets its employees (many of whom are millennials) book time off by sending a single email to their manager. When the manager approves the vacation, it is logged into 10,000ft, a resource tracking software. It’s a two-step process that takes a matter of minutes.
Using a decades-old paper form to manage Army leave time may not seem all that noteworthy at first glance. But the volume of manpower, energy, and effort it takes to manage a single form, multiplied by nearly 1.1 million soldiers taking one or more leaves per calendar year, is simply staggering. With more than 2.2 million men and women in uniform, active and reserve, the U.S. military often throws manpower against almost any bureaucratic task. Since the costs of military manpower are often viewed as “free” once the troops are recruited — and because the costs of doing routine business are largely opaque — few if any incentives exist to attack dense bureaucratic thickets that have accumulated over decades. The Department of Defense (DOD) has spent billions of dollars on information technology, but many parts of the defense enterprise still depend on “automated manual processes” — layering automation on top of industrial age processes without changing the underlying approach.