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Layers of bureaucracy block Army from technological advancement, say experts

ARLINGTON, Va. — Excess bureaucracy is holding the U.S. Army back from efficiency and technological development, experts and defense leaders said at an Association of the U.S. Army forum on Thursday.

"The challenge is not technical; the challenge is in this room," said Joshua Marcuse, executive director of the Defense Innovation Board, referring to the dozens of U.S. Army logistics officials attending the forum on Army sustainment. The Defense Innovation Board was created by former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to bring Silicon Valley technologies to the Department of Defense. 

Marcuse criticized the U.S. Army for the layers of bureaucracy and inefficiency that innovation must pass through to be implemented. 

As Lt. Gen. Aundre Piggee spoke about implementing today's technology to fix problems, like a lack of dash manuals, the Army deputy chief of staff asked rhetorically, "Every soldier today has a smartphone in their pocket. Why don't we put a manual on their smart phone?"

"This is something you could do tomorrow and probably should," Marcuse responded. "The issue is the bureaucracy, or the culture … or the Hill."

Marcuse advised the U.S. Army to reconsider the acquisition process. Software should not be treated the same as a billion-dollar helicopter that is supposed to last for 50 years, he said. Instead, he mentioned having software developers on site with units, solving problems in real time. He also recommended obtaining government-owned code and buying services rather than one-time acquisitions.

In his keynote presentation, Gen. Gustave Perna expressed his desire to buy intellectual property when he purchases items for the Army, but emphasized his frustration with the bureaucratic process.

Perna, commanding general of U.S. Army Material Command, mentioned how detrimental continuing resolutions can be to transactions in his department, causing long hours when the budget is finally approved and halting transactions beforehand. He also mentioned his desire to put an end to sequestration in the law.

Perna pushed for consistent and predictable funding, noting how efficiency can only be achieved if there is trust in the ability to pay for programs.

"We need to change our culture … we need to push back on bureaucracy," he said, lamenting the nine years of continuing resolutions.

Maj. Gen. Stephen Farmen, commanding general of United States Army Security Assistance Command, or USASAC, meanwhile, voiced his disappointment in how slow the foreign military sales process, or FMS, is taking, emphasizing how the program contributes significantly to United States' readiness. He said the Trump administration and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis are particularly skilled at using FMS as leverage, as they did in Saudi Arabia.

Both Farmen and fellow panelist Vice Adm. William A. Brown, director for logistics for the U.S. Navy, zeroed in on the significance of allies’ readiness for the U.S. Army's sustainment.

While Farmen said the biggest risk is that allies are not investing enough in sustainment and training, Brown, who is responsible for logistics planning and execution in support of joint force readiness, said that there is no way the U.S. would be capable of going to war without our allies today.

He commended the recent efforts of NATO, saying, "I’ve never seen them churning like they’re out there churning now."

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