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24 November 2003

A Big Step in "Transforming" the U.S. Military

Op-ed column by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld

(This column by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld was published in the Wall Street Journal November 24 and is in the public domain. No republication restrictions.)

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A 21st-Century DoD
By Donald H. Rumsfeld

While news from Iraq, Afghanistan and other fronts in the war on terror dominate the headlines, here at home progress is being made on another important front: the critical work of military transformation. Today, President Bush will sign into law landmark legislation that will help bring the Defense Department out of the industrial age, and into the information age.

Sen. John Warner and Rep. Duncan Hunter, together with Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis and other supporters on both sides of the aisle in both Houses, deserve praise for their determination in helping to move this legislation through Congress. When signed into law, this bill will enable us to better prepare our forces to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Today's war on terror is unlike any our nation has fought before. Instead of opposing armies, we face terrorists who move information at the speed of an e-mail, money at the speed of a wire transfer, and people at the speed of a commercial jetliner. And, as the century unfolds, we may face still different threats -- and wars that could be distinctly different. To deal with these new challenges, our forces need to be light, flexible and agile. The same is true of the men and women who support them in the DoD. Our 700,000 civilian employees also need flexibility -- so they can move money, shift people between tasks, design and acquire new weapons more rapidly, and respond to the continuing changes in our security environment.

Today, they do not have that kind of flexibility. We are fighting the first wars of the 21st century with a DoD that was designed for the challenges of the mid- to late-20th century. With this legislation, we will have new authorities to change this. It will provide civilian managers in the department with 21st-century management tools. It marks the biggest change in the department's civilian personnel management system since the Civil Service Reform Act of 25 years ago. The bill allows the DoD to set up a National Security Personnel System for its civilians, giving managers greater freedom to assign the civilian work-force to different tasks quickly, as the circumstances may require. It authorizes "pay-for-performance" and expedited hiring practices that will help the department recruit, retain and compete with the private sector for talent. And it authorizes national-level bargaining authority, so the DoD can negotiate with unions at the national level, instead of renegotiating the same issue with 1,300 different union locals.

The legislation will also clarify key portions of two environmental laws. Our military must protect the nation while preserving our environmental heritage. These reforms will allow us to train our forces, while maintaining the department's high standard of environmental stewardship. This legislation also preserves the authority Congress granted two years ago to begin an orderly process of realigning our military base structure, which still reflects Cold War priorities. It also authorizes a 3.7% across-the-board pay raise for those in uniform -- volunteers all -- and preserves Imminent Danger Pay and Family Separation Allowance for the men and women fighting on the front lines. And it provides authorization for research into new military capabilities that will allow us to reach terrorist networks and other threats in the global war on terror -- and prepare for threats still unseen.

This legislation is an important step forward on the road to transforming the department. Already, we have reduced management and headquarters staffs by 11% and streamlined the budget and acquisition processes by eliminating hundreds of pages of unnecessary rules and self-imposed red tape. But this is only a step. Transforming is not an event. There is no moment at which the DoD moves from being untransformed to being "transformed." We will need to be continuously looking for ways to improve both the military and civilian sides of the department. With the passage of the 2004 Defense Authorization Act, Congress should be saluted for freeing us to create a stronger and more effective military.

(Mr. Rumsfeld is the secretary of defense.)

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