Authority, Autonomy, and Accountability: Defense Fielding Principles for Innovation and Speed to Mission

June 2017
Topics: Government Agency Operations, Military Operations (General), Management, Systems Engineering
Roger D. Thrasher, The MITRE Corporation
Eliahu H. Niewood, The MITRE Corporation
Dan B. Ward, The MITRE Corporation
Peter J. Modigliani, The MITRE Corporation
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Here’s the bad news: the US defense fielding enterprise—the combined efforts of Congress and the Executive Branch to field relevant defense capabilities—is not meeting our Nation’s needs. At a time when the Nation confronts a diverse set of military threats, the pace at which the United States fields relevant military capabilities continues to slow despite defense budgets that are near all-time inflation-adjusted highs. That might have been satisfactory when we massively outspent all other nations or when we had a lock on advanced technology development, but neither is true now, and our strategic competitors are fielding new capabilities faster than we are. If the current situation continues, we face a growing capability disadvantage.

Here’s the good news: we can do something about it. Right now, the defense fielding environment plays by the rules Congress and the Department of Defense (DoD) have set up. If we’re not satisfied with the results we’re getting, we can change the environment, the culture, and the incentives—not by issuing more detailed policies or exhortations to “go faster” or “be agile,” but by diagnosing and changing the fundamental elements that are holding us back.

There are no easy fixes and no silver bullets. Making fundamental changes is going to be uncomfortable. Fixing our current system will involve risk-taking and we should expect (and encourage) smart failure—in exchange for greater rewards, quicker learning, and sustained speed to mission over the long haul. This paper proposes principles and recommendations to help improve defense fielding fundamentally, primarily by focusing authority, autonomy, and accountability at the point of execution in multiple mission-focused organizations.

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