The government is always right

A few things caught my eye last week.

  • First, over on Army.ca my friend Tony Prudori, whose milnet.ca blog is a “must read” for those who want to be well informed on defence issues, posted the latest senior appointments list which includes another new flag/general officer position ~ a deputy to the vice chief of the defence staff.
  • Next, a friend drew my attention to a new book: ‘High Command: British Military Leadership in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars,’ which, essentially argues that the British military’s Permanent Joint Headquarters at Norwood (which is, roughly, analogous to our Canadian Joint Operations Command or one of the US combatant commands) simply got in the way in Afghanistan and Iraq and ended up being a time-wasting “middle man.” (I have  not yet read the book – I will, but not until later this summer); and
  • Then, in a private conversation which, obviously, I cannot reference, another friend (a senior serving officer whose word I take as gospel) told me that at least one major Canadian Forces headquarters is “dysfunctional” and that at least some of the most senior officers are underemployed and are assigned “make work” projects so that they will avoid stepping on each others’ toes.

All that reminded me that it is now over five years since Prime Minister Stephen Harper sent a letter to then Defence Minister Peter MacKay telling him, quite explicitly, to ““present detailed proposals that critically examine corporate and institutional overhead with a view to avoiding budgetary reductions that impact on operational capabilities, the part-time reserves, training within Canada, and the promotion and protection of our national sovereignty.”” In everyday English that means cut the departmental and military headquarters and command and control (C²) superstructure (that’s the “corporate and institutional overhead“) and do not tie up ships, disband combat units or reduce reserve force training. I commented, at some length, on this about 18 months ago.

It seems pretty clear to me that Prime Minister Harper was right, five years ago, and General Tom Lawson (amongst others) was wrong when he said, over a year later, that there was no fat left to cut. Not all the “fat” in the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces is the result of empire building by admirals, generals and civil tab-na-xmas-harassment03-vancejpg.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxservants, but some is and there is, always, room to cut. I stand by the prescriptions I offered 18 months ago: deep cuts to the number of HQs between the chief of the defence staff, in Ottawa and the sailors, 9128912soldiers and air force members in the fleet, in the field and on bases in Canada and abroad; major changes to ranks and responsibilities in the staff ~ almost all involving lowering the ranks of staff officers so that the authority of the “chain of command” is absolutely clear; and reforming the staff system so that there are no more redundant HQs that  just “get in the way.”

The government is always “right” when it decides (with or without military advice) how much money and people the admirals and generals may have in order to carry out their tasks. The job of the admirals and generals and senior civil servants is to execute the government’s missions with the resources provided … or resign and make room for someone else to try. There is nothing magical about being an admiral or a general: the senior officers are, almost, all first rate people ~ and they were first rate commanders and lieutenant colonels, too; they got to be admirals and generals because they were smart and hard working ~ they didn’t, suddenly, become smart and industrious just because they were promoted to flag rank.

There are, I am sure, at least as many “models” for how to organize the Canadian Forces trudeau-europe-20170525as there are people in and around the military. I’m guessing that both General Vance and Minister Sajjan have ideas of their own; I imageknow that Liberal MP Andrew Leslie did when he was a serving generalJustin Trudeau promised to implement his (Leslie’s) “transformation” report, but that, like so many of his promises, has died a lingering death due to ineptitude or simple neglect. Andrew Leslie proposed, inter alia:

  • Reducing the numbers of headquarters and staffs by grouping like functions or accepting risk in the entire elimination of certain organizations; and
  • Identifying and reallocating approximately 3,500 regular force personnel into those areas identified for future growth or investing the funds elsewhere;” because, he said in his report
  • The Department is an organization with multiple layers of military and civilian bureaucracy that mitigates’ against the required managerial agility and flexibility to efficiently and effectively prosecute the totality of its assigned resources as indicated by the growing trend of unspent money.

I can tell you that the Leslie Report got mixed reviews in the defence community: a few people thought it was pure gold; a few others thought it was all dreadful drivel; most people thought parts of it were good and others bad ~ it was, therefore, just like most government reports.

Minister Sajjan doesn’t need another long, detailed “transformation” study. He could give a few simple, clear, common sense directives ~ guiding principles such as the ones I mentioned above and in previous posts on this subject ~ and let the Deputy Minister and CDS get on, quickly, with the detailed work. But reform of the departmental and military “corporate and institutional overhead” might also be an opportune time to revisit the 50+ year old military rank and skill matrix to ensure that it, largely, unchanged since the Hellyer era, meets our current needs … or change it.

There is, I think, enough evidence ~ anecdotal and from studies from people like Andrew Leslie ~ to warrant an overhaul of defence department and the military’s “corporate and institutional overhead.” Prime Minister Harper was right, five years ago, to demand cuts to the bloated C² superstructure; Prime Minister Trudeau, if he had any interest in giving Canadians “bang for the buck” would be right to do the same today.

 

 

 

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