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Pentagon’s new management reform institute aims to learn lessons from past failures

January 31, 2023

Ashley Roque

Breaking Defense

WASHINGTON —Nimble and efficient are not words used to describe day-to-day management of the Pentagon, but officials are on a quest to improve the department’s performance and identify ways to better retain institutional memory for their future successors.

That’s the drive behind today’s launch of a new Defense Management Institute (DMI), a team-up of the Department of Defense and the non-profit Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA). The DMI’s focus will evolve over time, but Michael Donley, the Pentagon’s director of administration and management, has given the entity three primary tasks — developing a defense management network of expertise and community; researching management topics; and assembling a digital repository of research and resources on core defense management issues.

“The Defense Management Institute is groundbreaking…never before has there been an institute dedicated solely to performance improvement,” Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said at today’s event. “Management reform advances the entire department, including acquisition [and] technology, all of which are central to the department’s mission and directly supports the warfighter.”

In addition to conducting studies and analyses for the Department of Defense, the DMI will assemble an online library of past management studies, and better connect defense officials with relevant experts. The institute is also aligned to conduct periodical performance reviews of defense agencies to assess their effectiveness and efficiency, Donley said. However, he noted that it will take time for the institute to find its footing and sort through the finer details. 

 In theory, DMI’s research should help the department better understand how it can become more efficient in tackling acquisition needs — which could prove important over the next two budget cycles. Although in the works for some time, DMI’s establishment comes just weeks after Republicans took control of the House of Representatives, with a small put powerful group of members calling for cuts or greater oversight to Pentagon spending.

One area DMI will be studying: what went wrong with the department’s Chief Management Officer (CMO) position. Congress dissolved the short-lived CMO post in 2020 over concerns it was not a success. But while the position disappeared, the workload did not, and Hicks has spent the interviewing years working to distribute it.

“We had to look afresh at how to organize for business operations, “Hicks said. “I’ll be honest, it was tough to do that immediately.”