For years, senior Department of Defense leaders have preached a message of speed. Buy faster. Test faster. Fail faster. Succeed faster. Get new capabilities out to the troops faster.
Faster, faster, faster.
Representatives from industry nod and say yes, faster is a start but, honestly, even faster would be better.
And so, the question naturally becomes, if everyone wants to go faster — the leaders want to go faster, and the folks on the front line want to go faster and the defense industry wants to go faster — what’s the holdup?
Inevitably, the answer is middle management. DoD bureaucracy is mired in the habit of moving slow. How it was is how it will forever be.
The problem, almost everyone says, is culture.
For several years now, the Pentagon has been reaching out to Silicon Valley as a way to, you guessed it, move faster. It has opened offices and assembled boards and advisors with Silicon Valley luminaries serving as liaisons to the Pentagon. Senior leaders have made approximately a billion jokes about having to wear a hoodie to work. The head of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., is on the board of the Pentagon’s advisory committee.
But in early April the New York Times reported 3,100 Google employees signed a letter asking the company to pull out of a DoD program called Project Maven. In short, that program would use Google’s artificial intelligence to help identify objects in drone video. Eventually, those objects could become targets. Google employees objected to this collaboration and that their talents were used as a weapon of war.
This event can be viewed as an act of pacifism, but it’s not a stretch to view it as a subtle attack on the outreach to the tech community.
Pentagon leaders have not made a convincing case as to why their dollars and their vision to change the world are any more altruistic than the next guy with billion-dollar pockets. Again, but this time with a West Coast flavor, the problem is DoD’s culture.
Disruption does not come clean or easy. It requires making people in long-held institutions unhappy.
If DoD wants to move faster, it has a choice: It can disrupt institutions in Washington or disrupt institutions on the West Coast. But if it wants wholesale change, as leaders often claim, it will have to choose workers on one coast to make unhappy.
Mike Gruss is the editor in chief of Sightline Media Group.