Wednesday, October 14, 2009

DOD basic research - DOA

In a page from the shipbuilding handbook - the Pentagon is hiding a cancer with bandaids again hoping no one, including themselves, will look at it.
...DOD basic research programs are ‘broken’,” according to an assessment performed by the JASON defense science advisory panel earlier this year, and “throwing more money at the problems will not fix them.”
Does this sound familiar?
But that rather significant conclusion was deliberately suppressed by Pentagon officials who withheld it from public disclosure when a copy of the JASON report was requested under the Freedom of Information Act. Instead, it was made public this week by Congress in the conference report on the FY 2010 defense authorization act, which quoted excerpts from the May 2009 JASON report, “Science and Technology for National Security.”“Basic research funding is not exploited to seed inventions and discoveries that can shape the future,” the JASONs also determined, as quoted in the congressional report (in discussion of the act’s section 213). Instead, “investments tend to be technological expenditures at the margin.”Furthermore, “the portfolio balance of DOD basic research is generally not critically reviewed by independent, technically knowledgeable individuals,” and “civilian career paths in the DOD research labs and program management are not competitive to other opportunities in attracting outstanding young scientists and retaining the best people.”
The DoD research laboratories should be abolished, the late Gen. William Odom suggested some years ago. “Few of them have invented anything of note in several decades, and many of the things they are striving to develop are already available in the commercial sector,” he wrote.

“Sadly, these laboratories not only waste money on their own activities; they also resist the purchase of available technologies from the commercial sector. Because they are generally so far behind the leading edges in some areas, they cause more than duplication; they also induce retardation and sustain obsolescence,” Odom wrote (”America’s Military Revolution,” American University Press, 1993, p. 159).
This may be part of a larger problem.
Citing a 2008 report in Science magazine, for example, the JASONs noted that “Peking and Tsinghua Universities have now overtaken Berkeley and Michigan as the largest undergraduate alma maters of PhD recipients in the U.S.”
Bingo. Back to our public school system and the burearcracy that promotes mediocracy.

We are getting the expected result.

There is something else here though, methinks. While reading in the magazine
The Week, I ran across a review of Neil Sheehan's new book about the development of the ICBM, A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon. In the review there is a great quote from USAF then BG Bernard Schriever when he was tasked with building what would take out the heart of LeMay's bomber force, the ICBM. He would do it under one condition -
"... (no) interference from those nit-picking sons of bitches at the Pentagon."
Is that the core of the problem? Do we have a system in place that prevents you from putting the right leaders with the right skills in the right position - and once they are there the ability to build the team they need to get the job done? Do we have as system that is so rigid, micro-managed, and full of HR non-sense from a personnel management that the best and brightest simply don't get involved because they don't want the aggravation? As a result, they go elsewhere?

We have great and good people in important places - but do we put them in a system that pulls them back from doing the right thing? Do we reward the right things - and create professional obstacles that either push the great away - or keep the great to only a good?

Well, I think some of those questions might give answers to the problem. When you look at what Schriever and his team did, you have to ask yourself - could he do it in the system we have today?

Hat tip ADB

No comments: