Visiting the Puzzle Palace

We focus much here on the problem of government dysfunction and waste, so it is only fair to point out examples of smart administration when they arise.

The Pentagon, which holds a special place in the conservative heart for the importance of its mission (the national defense,) also belongs in the conservative mush-pot for its inability recruit, train, arm, and field the US armed forces either economically or effectively. Nonetheless, there are signs that some things have changed in the past decade – small ones, to be sure, but signs that suggest that changing the Pentagon is possible.

On my recent visit to the Five-Sided Squirrel Cage, I was pleased to find the Visitor Center set off from (yet still adjacent to) the main building. Once a few rows of seats in an area used to provide employees with commercial services, the Visitor Center takes visitors away from the main flow of traffic, not only improving security but ensuring that service people can do their banking or get a haircut without standing in line behind a family of tourists.

Guides for the Pentagon Tour are all E-4 and below, and they manage the process brilliantly. There is no need to waste the time of a dozen good non-commissioned officers just to squire a bunch of tourists around the public areas of the building. What is more, getting junior enlisted personnel to do the job accomplishes two important missions. First, it gives promising young soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen a chance to communicate to the public at large. In an era of what retired Marine Corps General Charles Krulak called “the strategic corporal,” building leadership abilities and people skills into our most junior leaders is essential.

Second, in trusting our youngest soldiers to squire two dozen outsiders around a building bursting with national secrets, we demonstrate to ourselves and to anyone paying attention that what sets the US military apart is the strength and abilities of its most junior people. Take that, China.

One other aspect of greater Pentagon efficiency is worth mentioning. Many offices and billets in the Pentagon have allowed their people to forego the dressier classes of uniform and come to work in the respective forms of battle dress. There may be somebody somewhere who thinks this is beneath the dignity of Headquarters America. Nonsense. The move gives the Pentagon the feel of a command post rather than an office building with uniforms, helps build a mental connection with those serving in the field, and saves our men and women in uniform the expense of daily dry-cleaning.

I know what you are thinking: these changes around the edges of the Department of Defense are window dressing and not renovation. That’s true. But great changes in inertia-laden organizations often begin with small steps, and I remain optimistic that the institutional dysfunction of the DoD can be remedied. In order to stare down the Pentagon’s Perfumed Princes on the one hand and Capitol Hill’s pork-minded politicians on the other, we need a president whose dedication to and understanding of the mission of national defense are beyond question, and a bloody-minded Secretary of Defense with similar disposition.

Let that be a goal in 2016.

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Author: David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.

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