Unlocking Capacity is Critical to Reform, Shanahan Tells DoD Leaders

The Defense Department must restructure to unlock capability and capacity, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan told senior defense leaders in the Pentagon this week.

In an all-hands meeting Jan. 31 with general officers, admirals and members of the Senior Executive Service, Shanahan said the department faces myriad of complex, evolving challenges, especially from “great power” regimes that seek to insert “themselves, whether it is economically or militarily” into U.S. interests.

It is imperative, he said, that DoD move to work against those threats. The recently unveiled National Defense Strategy is about growing U.S. capability and capacity against these evolving security challenges, Shanahan said.

The deputy secretary highlighted three focus areas of change in the strategy: finding ways to move resources more quickly in the Joint Staff; supporting the services with better modernization plans; and generating more capability, to include autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence.

Over the next six months, the department will put into work the priorities and start undertaking the change, he added.

Budget Uncertainty Poses Risk to DoD

In briefing the group on the National Defense Strategy, Shanahan said that the biggest risk was dealing with security challenges in the face of budget uncertainty. But he praised Pentagon leaders for responding to an unprecedented number of natural disasters in the past year, undertaking leadership transition, implementing a new South Asia strategy, and defeating ISIS, all while operating under a congressional budget cap.

“You would think in the midst of all this, resources would be pouring in,” the deputy secretary said, pointing to budget uncertainties that include years of continuing resolutions. He said he remains optimistic that the department will receive adequate funding.

New threats from cyber and unmanned aerial vehicles are emerging, he said. Despite the challenges, the defense machine keeps going, and the department is “on track to get resourced properly,” Shanahan said.

Getting a Pulse, Shaping the Future

The aim of the all-hands meeting was to start a dialogue and get a pulse on what is happening in the Pentagon, the deputy secretary told standing-room-only crowd in the Pentagon auditorium.

“The perfect outcome of this meeting is that we get better as leaders, because we are the ones who are really going to shape the place today and in the future,” he said.

The Pentagon has a world-class workforce, Shanahan said, adding that the “amount of work that people can do in this complex environment is remarkable.”

He described his post as deputy to Defense Secretary James N. Mattis as the best job he has ever had.

“I think about why it’s the best job I’ve ever had, and it’s really the people,” the deputy secretary said, noting remarkable inclusiveness and cohesion among the staff.

Shanahan noted that the audience at the State of the Union “erupted” at the mention of Mattis’s name.

“He represents this body here. It’s a remarkable team,” he said.

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)