Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Let the bodies through the door (II): Consultants are the biggest problem

Here is a guest column from someone who cannot be identified, responding to yesterday’s item about the growth in staffing at big joint commands: By Mr. Y Best Defense defense consultants correspondent The joke is, this chart doesn’t count contractors. I conservatively estimate that those numbers have increased by some 300 percent in 10 years. ...

exfordy/flickr
exfordy/flickr

Here is a guest column from someone who cannot be identified, responding to yesterday's item about the growth in staffing at big joint commands:

By Mr. Y
Best Defense defense consultants correspondent

The joke is, this chart doesn't count contractors. I conservatively estimate that those numbers have increased by some 300 percent in 10 years. Money is easier to get than government bodies (civilian or military). And, these people aren't really counted by FTEs [full-time equivalents] but simply by contract amount. Then, there are thousand more buried in sub-HQ agencies and "field activities" and every other permutation that lets them keep the staff off of "official" headquarters manning documents. 

Here is a guest column from someone who cannot be identified, responding to yesterday’s item about the growth in staffing at big joint commands:

By Mr. Y
Best Defense defense consultants correspondent

The joke is, this chart doesn’t count contractors. I conservatively estimate that those numbers have increased by some 300 percent in 10 years. Money is easier to get than government bodies (civilian or military). And, these people aren’t really counted by FTEs [full-time equivalents] but simply by contract amount. Then, there are thousand more buried in sub-HQ agencies and "field activities" and every other permutation that lets them keep the staff off of "official" headquarters manning documents. 

This growth creates sclerosis. It slows down decisions and action. It sucks the lifeblood out of eager 0-4s and 0-5 working at HQ, hoping to make a difference in policy (that they will then go implement when back in the field). 

I am reading Michael Lewis’ book, The Big Short, about the subprime mortgage crisis that nearly brought capitalism to its knees. There were guys betting against the market in 2004-05-06 who couldn’t believe how stupid most of Wall Street was in making these subprime mortgage bets. As they got closer to the action and learned more — they realized it was even worse than they thought, and the people in leadership positions were even dumber than they could imagine.

That’s what we’re dealing with. The closer you get, the worse that it looks.

Secretary Gates is trying his damndest to get his arms around this, and shrink it.  But the bureaucracy is resilient … and it is supported by a private sector power that is as pernicious as the weapons systems industry. It’s the consulting industry. Some outside perspectives are valuable and necessary. But, we have gone way beyond that. It’s just bodies — qualified or not — thrown into the system.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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