Frank Gaffney

Since the early 1980s, the Defense Department has successfully experimented with improvements in personnel practices that have made possible considerable enhancements to civilian work-force performance and morale, while permitting some cost-savings. Secretary Rumsfeld proposes to draw on this experience, the recommendations of numerous independent review panels and the insights he and others have garnered in the business sector, to devise a new National Security Personnel System.

These personnel management changes are not simply desirable; they are essential. The Pentagon faces an impending crisis as aging baby-boomers, who comprise many of its most experienced civilian employees, begin to retire in droves. Flexibility not currently afforded to managers -- especially with respect to expedited hiring of needed personnel, the ability to reward outstanding service and greater latitude to reassign or terminate non-performers -- will enable the Pentagon's civilians to keep pace with, and support, the transformation of the capabilities of their military counterparts.

One of the most controversial aspects of the Defense Transformation Act is among its most commonsensical: The military needs to be able to train as it intends to fight -- something that it is increasingly unable to do on the lands and in the waters set aside for that purpose due to creeping (in some cases, galloping) environmental-related strictures.

The Rumsfeld team is both environmentally sensitive and mindful of the fervor any effort to undo "green" statutes and regulations typically engenders. Faced with the real threat to training and readiness arising from current inhibitions on movement over military bases' beaches, in litoral waters and on off-road areas, however, the Pentagon is seeking legislative protection from still further restrictions that would have a truly crippling effect. This is absolutely the least Congress can do to support the troops.

The Bottom Line

The Defense Transformation Act is neither a panacea nor is it incapable of improvement by national security-minded professionals. Aspects of the bill bearing on foreign dependency, depot-maintenance and contracting-out of Pentagon activities, for example, are matters on which there will likely be disagreement and room for vigorous debate -- even among people animated exclusively by the desire to secure the most transformed and capable U.S. military possible.

The Congress has a duty to do its part in securing such a transformation. Unless acquisition, personnel and training and readiness improvements are made in tandem with the sorts of changes Secretary Rumsfeld has put in train with respect to operating, equipping and overseas deployment of the armed forces, the full benefits of transformation will be denied the military and the Nation they serve so well.

As legislators are subjected to the inevitable pressure to resist these sorts of changes -- whether externally generated by interest groups or emanating from their own reluctance to change familiar ways of doing business -- they have an obligation to ask themselves as Ronald Reagan did their predecessors a generation ago: If not now, when? If not we, who?

Frank Gaffney

Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
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