While nitwits in the national media stumble over themselves covering the president-elect’s latest tweets — Newt Gringrich calls them “rabbits” sent out to distract the news hounds — important things are taking place outside of public view. You can get a sense of the new thinking about to overwhelm Washington, D.C., in comments that the former U.S. Speaker of the House made to the National Defense University a couple of weeks ago.
The speech was long, wandering and provocative, as is typically the case with Gingrich, but also illuminating. What struck me as a Virginia blogger was the focus on the massive waste built into the Pentagon bureaucracy. The bureaucracy, which is leeching resources from the nation’s war fighters, is a national disaster, and it needs to be fixed. But fixing it would shake up the Northern Virginia economy, much of which revolves around the feeding and nurturing of that bureaucracy.
If you went back to Eisenhower’s generation, Gingrich said, the number of people it took to run the largest armed force in the nation’s history was tiny.
A small number of people did an amazing amount of effective work. We’ve now replaced them with committees of 60, of whom 40 know nothing. …
This is particularly true in the American military bureaucracy including huge numbers of civilians right now. You have people who’ve been in Iraq and they’ve been in Afghanistan, and they’ve been in combat, dealing with people who have done none of that, and the people who have done none of that think they have the authority to question the people who have actually done it. …
It’s not about money. It’s about thinking. I’ll give you an example. The Pentagon was built in 1943, the year I was born. It was built to house 31,000 people, to wage global war, using manual typewriters with carbon paper. Beetle Smith, as Secretary to Chief of Staff George Marshall, used to run drills with his staff to see how fast they could find documents in the files, so that they could meet General Marshall’s request in the quickest possible time, manually.
What’s the exchange rate between filing cabinets with carbon paper, and manual typewriters, and the iPad, and the smartphone I carry with me all day? What would you guess? Ten to one? Twenty to one? Closing on infinity? … I propose, as a symbol, that we develop a plan that turns the Pentagon into a triangle. At least 40 percent of the current bureaucracy has to be superfluous. Literally. What does that cost? It means you have committees who think their job is to be important by asking stupid questions, and they have the power to then slow down everything while people answer the stupid questions, which will allow them to write a report that goes to a different committee, which wonders what that report really means, so they ask for another report about the report, and then you wonder how you get to the F-35. …
If Secretary Mattis goes in and says, we’re going to reform and modernize the Pentagon into a triangle, that would be transformational. You could either share the space with other Federal offices, or you could create a terrific museum of war. I mean, 40 percent of the Pentagon would be a great tourist trap. ….
You have to get it into your head. The current system is broken. It is obsolete, so don’t try to fix it. Try to replace it.
Perhaps this is Gingrich just being Gringrich, thinking the big thoughts. Perhaps the president-elect has other priorities than reforming the federal bureaucracy. Perhaps, as Gingrich has opined elsewhere, the administration “will lose its nerve.” But improving the military’s tooth-to-tail ratio is a national imperative. And with all the other plans the president-elect has for cutting taxes and investing in infrastructure, there will be precious few additional dollars for defense spending. If the new administration does get serious about restructuring the military, the next four years could be the most unsettling time in history for Northern Virginia.There are currently no comments highlighted.