Tricky Business

By Sebastian Sprenger / September 29, 2008 at 5:00 AM

The old adage of “putting your money where your mouth is” is an inherently tricky business at the Defense Department that likely will occupy any new Pentagon leadership. So large and complex is the behemoth agency that the linkage between strategic goals and the investment strategy crafted to reach them often gets blurred.

In the past years, leaders unveiled various efforts designed to give the combatant commanders, as opposed to the services, more say in how defense dollars are spent. The COCOM chiefs, the thinking goes, have a pretty good view of what programs are needed to carry out the military’s strategic and operations plans.

The combatant commanders, however, for the most part have no statutory authority to buy things. That responsibility rests with the services, codified in Title X.

So, in order to make processes like capability portfolio management work, Pentagon leaders put the powerful Deputy’s Advisory Working Group front and center to resolve differences in the spending plans between the services and the capability portfolio management folks.

In that sense, the idea of capability portfolio management and the DAWG as a governance forum are closely linked, and it remains to be seen what the new administration intends to with the two.

The Defense Business Board, for its part, said in a recent report the DAWG has earned its keep.

Another mechanism designed to bolster combatant commanders’ input into the budget process emerged earlier this year as part of the Pentagon’s relatively new “adaptive planning” construct. Officials hope the “linking plans to resources” (LPTR) concept, described in the adaptive planning roadmap as a three-step process, could help clearly delineate Pentagon objectives and investment strategies.

The future of LPTR is still somewhat open, according to a Joint Staff colonel, who said it will take “at least a year or more” to mature the idea from a mere concept stage into a mechanism with widespread application for budget decisions.

At Pacific Command, officials went through a formal LPTR drill when they crafted the command’s latest integrated priority list a couple of weeks ago. At the Hawaii-based command, the process now goes by a new name, by the way. Officials there call it PROP, which stands for “plans-to-resources-to-outcomes process,” we’re told.