Wednesday, October 9, 2013

When Hope is a Plan: Canadian Defence Version

The Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence just rolled out their new effort to "renew" defence by finding better ways of doing things so that the money saved $750 million or more per year can be spent on training, operations and other kinds of readiness stuff.  This sounds terrific, but, given how poor these folks are at basic accounting, I have to wonder if this is not making the basic sin in football and war: confusing hope for a plan.

There are two items in the renewal package that together make me doubt how successful this endeavor will be--the personnel numbers and the transparency stuff.  First, the plan suggests that there will be no cuts in CF personnel nor will civilian employees be let go.  The plan is for attrition (retirements, people quitting) to have some impact on the numbers. This is where the plan =  hope.  Will there be enough retirements by the right kind of people in the right spots that will be eliminated?  Yes, one can shift slots around to a degree, but it may be the case that retirees will not be just folks from redundant positions or those with fungible skills.  More clearly, no cuts in the CF personnel means that there will be limited savings.  Why?  Because that is one of the biggest budget items.  Every effort to protect this government's stance that the CF will not face any personnel cuts is another effort that dodges some of the real issues.  No wonder the defence workers unions are just a little worried.

The second item focuses on transparency.  Whose?  The CF's or DND's?  Given that the plan thus far is really quite vague on the personnel question, and given that this government hates transparency in all things, I nearly laughed out loud when I read that section of the plan:
A culture of openness and trust is defined by the presence of honesty, transparency, and open dialogue. It is an essential component for organizations where separate elements are expected to operate independently, yet be mutually supporting. It relies on information being readily shared, and having a common commitment to serve the interests of the greater organization over personal or localized interests. It is particularly important to renewal when initiatives require cross-functional coordination and support in order to succeed.
Maybe this is a promise for the folks in DND to be honest with each other, but past practice suggests progress here would be more than renewal--it would be revolutionary.  I mean, this is an organization where its revised webpage eliminates (as far as I can tell) a relatively simple and non-controversial source of information--the biographies of senior officers.  It was, until recently, quite easy to find the basic bio of any Canadian Colonel/Captain (Navy) or General/Admiral.  This was handy when I was interviewing folks as I could find out who served where and in what roles.  Now, I dare you to find the bios for the officers who are not the very top commanders or those who are in comms & electronics (searches only get folks in those two categories).

Anyhow, this renewal plan is a bit better than that of the Underwear Gnomes, but maybe not that much better.  Compare the DND plan
Step 1: Create a plan and roll it out
Step 2: Hope that these processes lead to spending cuts
Step 3: Savings!
with the Underwear Gnomes' strategy

My plan for cutting defence spending would be to have each unit in the Canadian Forces and in the Department of National Defence create a Dungeons and Dragons character, and then whoever survives a series of adventures gets to keep the treasure and weapons they collect along the way.  Ok, maybe not so realistic, but it would be wildly entertaining.

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