Disrupting Acquisition Blog

The Pentagon Has Too Many Hall Monitors

by | Aug 31, 2021 | Accelerate, Bureaucracy, Mindset, Policy

In the next few years, if (when?) we lose a major conflict with a near-peer adversary and the American people seek to understand how this happened, a comprehensive assessment will identify one of the major causes will be the Pentagon’s Hall Monitors.

At a time when the DoD must be sprinting to exploit leading technologies and experiment with novel operations, there are Hall Monitors around every corner of the Pentagon warning “don’t run in the halls!” They proudly wear their crisp Hall Monitor sashes signifying their authority to certify hall passes and maintain good conduct. Pentagon Hall Monitors upon their 10-year anniversary get a speed bump installed in their honor with their name engraved on a plaque. Safety first!

hall monitor sash

The DoD is the world’s biggest bureaucracy. It has over two million active-duty military and civilians, along with over 800,000 guard and reserves. It spends over $700 billion annually. For over 70 years, the DoD has added layers upon layers of organizations, policies, processes, reviews, boards, and documentation. Lots and lots of documentation. With every program failure comes additional laws, policies, and certifications to ensure that future programs don’t repeat the same failures. The cumulative weight of the compliance morass may pose the greatest risk to programs and operations.

The DoD has a critically important mission to ensure our national defense. It seeks to achieve military superiority to deter our adversaries from threatening our interests and defeat them if conflicts arise.

We live in a dynamic environment with accelerating changes in operations, threats, and technologies. China has made radical advancements in military capabilities, future technologies, global economic investments, and political influence. DoD cannot afford massive bureaucratic delays.

Yet it still takes over a decade for DoD to develop and produce a major weapon system. When you add in all the time to define requirements, appropriate budgets, analyze, document strategies, design, develop, test, produce, and deliver systems, many take 20 years to go from idea to IOC. How many delays were due to low value reviews and certifications? How many resources were focused on compliance that could have been directed to delivering capability for the warfighter?

DoD has thousands of Hall Monitors tasked to certify compliance with various policies, laws, processes, and directives. Most policies and laws were well intended, yet the execution became a bureaucratic morass. Some programs must have a senior organization certify compliance with an architecture that has never been fully defined nor updated in over a decade. They will typically spend a few months of confusion, then submit draft offerings to the Hall Monitors, and spend months of rework to finalize the paperwork.

No one disputes that DoD needs rigorous testing, cybersecurity, interoperability, affordability, and a wide range of other areas given the nature of warfare, advanced technologies, large budgets, and countless lives. The issues are how much, when, and the processes to validate sufficiency. There are many who treat it strictly as an auditor would. The policy/statute says all programs must have an X, so they are there to certify X. Lost is the context, environment, risks, threats, schedules, and other factors.

A key challenge is over the decades, cottage industries have risen to certify compliance with the endless array of laws and policies. Many Hall Monitors likely realize that their current business practices add significant costs, time, and risk while offering little value. Yet they will fight tooth and nail at any reform initiatives to modernize, streamline, or eliminate these certifications as they would lose their hall monitor sashes.  Reform initiatives require careful consideration of the Hall Monitors to provide them a new opportunity to focus their energy.

I’ll avoid naming specific organizations and Hall Monitor mafias, but most across DoD, Congress, and Industry are aware of them, but few are taking the steps to address the issue. DoD leaders or Congress should charter independent reviews of each of these Hall Monitor enterprises to assess their value and effectiveness. These reviews should answer a series of questions:

  • If DoD no longer had to certify X, what’s the worst that could happen? What’s most likely to happen?
  • How might we accelerate the certification process for X?
  • Are there alternate means to meet the intent of the original certification?
  • How much guidance and resources do the Hall Monitors provide the workforce to enable them to design smart strategies from the start and navigate the process faster with greater ease.
  • Can we streamline or modernize compliance? How can we meet the intent of statute or senior-level policy most efficiently?
  • If eliminated or streamlined, how many millions/billions would be saved in DoD manpower, contractor support, and acquisition program effectiveness?
  • If eliminated or streamlined, will capabilities be delivered to warfighters faster?

DoD needs to balance speed with rigor and provide sound judgements on programs based on risk and environment.  The value of compliance must outweigh the cost of compliance by a significant margin.  While each individual statute or policy that one must certify compliance with may be reinforcing sound practices, the cumulative effect adds considerable cost, schedule, and risk to programs and the enterprise. DoD must aggressively trim, streamline, and modernize its compliance processes. DoD must focus more resources and expertise on those who do the work than those who check the work. There must be a continual education and advisory services for the workforce to enable them to understand what is required and how to effectively do it.

The Pentagon needs to remove the speed bumps and encourage more running in the halls. The Pentagon needs more discussions around whiteboards and less Power Point theater. There is a growing array of threats in the world and we need everyone focused on delivering modern capabilities and adapting our means of warfare for the fast paced Digital Age.

Disclaimer:  The opinions expressed here are those of the authors only and do not represent the positions of the MITRE Corporation or its sponsors.


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