17 May 2012

Our Reality

When I took command of Fleet Forces in July 2009, one of my first actions was to conduct an All-Hands call with my staff to inform them that we were entering a period of great challenge and sustained uncertainty. I told them I believed we were headed for permanent whitewater; that is, an environment in which our overall defense budget would very likely decrease, while our costs to own and operate the Fleet would likely continue to increase.
When you consider the environment we’re in today – our decreasing defense budget, looming sequestration cuts and increasing demand for our forces around the world – I believe we have indeed entered that permanent whitewater. And we’re in it at a time when we have an unprecedented percentage of the Fleet routinely forward deployed in a variety of “hot spots” around the world. While we have no idea yet when this whitewater will end (I believe we’re just getting started), we can be sure the demand for our forward-deployed Navy will not slacken one bit.
Now, I’ve served through several of these fiscal “downturns” over the course of my 39 year career. I was commissioned in 1973 during a particularly turbulent time for our nation. The public discontent with the war in Vietnam was very high (and taking its toll on our Navy), our nation was sharply divided on just about every national issue, we were on the cusp of a recession that would affect our nation (and our Navy) for the rest of the decade and the defense budget had dropped by about 25% over the previous five years. In many ways, it was a perfect storm of fiscal and social chaos. We faced similar challenges in the immediate post-Cold War period of the 1990s when our defense budgets steadily declined for nearly a decade (the “peace” dividend) and our Navy took a “procurement holiday,” the impact of which we are still feeling today.

Each of these down cycles and turbulent periods posed their own unique set of challenges to our Navy, but they provide us with lessons that we can apply to our own situation today. I want to share with you some of the important lessons I learned during those times that I believe apply to everyone in the Fleet today, regardless of where you are in the chain-of-command or your community warfare specialty.

First, this is our reality and we must accept it. This whitewater and all the churn that comes with it is not going away anytime soon. The world is not going to settle down so we can take a “training time-out” and figure out how we’re going to deal with our new fiscal and operational environment. And we don’t have the option (nor do we want it!) of simply packing up and walking away when the times are tough. Now is the time to be thinking about how we’re going to adapt to an increasingly austere future in an increasingly volatile world. If we continue to operate under the “business as usual” mindset, we will fail. I can assure you that whatever our future looks like, it will not simply be business as usual.

Second, we must make the tough decisions that the times demand of us and own the consequences of those decisions. Fewer resources brings competing priorities. I wrote here over two years ago that in an environment with declining resources, there are things that we inevitably will not be able to do (ref: do less, but not less well). While our overall operational demand shows no sign of slowing down, fiscal discipline demands that we prioritize requirements and make the reuired decisions about how we will meet our missions. This area is not one in which we can simply stick our heads in the sand and hope for the best. Hope is never an acceptable strategy in our line of work. Hoping for a result means you’ve lost control of the situation or your ability to influence the outcome. We live with the consequences of our decisions, not our hopes.

Third, take ownership of your responsibilities. If you see a problem, be part of the solution. I talked earlier this year about BMC Pici and how he and his team took ownership of Corrosion Control on USS WINSTON S. CHURCHILL. BMC Pici had engaged the entire ship and created an environment in which every member of the crew was responsible for some aspect of corrosion control and prevention, just like every member of the crew is expected to have fundamental DC skills. And when given the opportunity, he took a chance and told me he needed paint floats because there weren’t any available (a problem RADM Dave Thomas and I promptly fixed). BMC Pici took ownership of his responsibilities and did what he felt he needed to do in order to ensure his team had the tools they needed to do their jobs – just like I want every Sailor in the Fleet to take ownership of their program, division, department, and command.

Finally, don’t lose sight of why we’re here. My job and commitment to our Sailors is to give them the tools, training and time they need to deploy confident in their ability to carry out their assigned missions. If you work at Fleet Forces, then your job should contribute in some way to this mission (i.e. providing Forces ready for tasking). We’ve reached a point where we all need to take a hard look at the many tasks we do each day and ask ourselves how it contributes to our mission. And we need to make the decisions (see previous paragraph) to stop spending resources on endless churn that has no clear benefit to our Sailors or our mission. We’re here to ensure our Sailors have what they need to get the job done. Period.

Many of the challenges we face every day are not exclusive to rank. Whether you’re a Flag Officer commanding a strike group or a Fire Controlman manning a weapons console in a DDG, your feedback on how we address our challenges is important. That’s why I’ve maintained this blog and fostered an open discussion up and down the chain-of-command for the three years I’ve been in command of Fleet Forces. At the end of the day, the onus is on us to take ownership of the Fleet and ensure we remain the Ready, Responsive, and Relevant force our nation needs. All the best, JCHjr


Anonymous said...

Agree with the focus towards judiciousness of our resources, especially travel; however, I'd like to know if DOD contractors are under the same scrutiny.
Understand when Tech Reps. perform immediate travel for emergent repairs, troubleshooting, etc., that's absolutely necessary. But do we have the necessary controls in place to reduce/prevent waste of contractor travel via Contract Administration reviews and reduction efforts?

RADM Guadagnini said...

Dear Anonymous,
You make an excellent point! In this austere fiscal environment it is incumbent upon defense contractors to also judiciously expend government funds. To that end, all DOD contractors are required to comply with the Joint/Federal Travel Regulations where applicable and prudently plan their travel to stretch funding as far as possible. All contracts at USFF have a designated Contracting Officer's Representative/Technical Assistant who validates contractor expenditures to include labor and travel costs. The CORs are responsible for ensuring work performed and travel taken are within the scope of their specific contract. However, there is always room for improvement and travel is one area of contracting that bears more oversight from directorate leadership.
With Respect, Mark Guadagnini