Reforming Pentagon Strategic Decisionmaking by Christopher Lamb and Irving Lachow. Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University, Strategic Forum, July 2006.

Decisionmaking in the Pentagon is intrinsically difficult, but the growing consensus is that reform is both necessary and possible. The chorus of voices calling for reform reached a crescendo with the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review Report, which gives unprecedented priority to this objective.

Yet the Pentagon’s large and powerful bureaucracy and complex operating environment pose daunting obstacles for even the most knowledgeable, experienced, and determined leaders. Decision support processes designed to be rational are anything but that, and attempts by Pentagon leaders to compensate for this situation often make the problem worse. Furthermore, intuitive decisionmaking support that could improve strategic decisionmaking is ignored on the erroneous presumption that it is illegitimate.

Reforming Pentagon decisionmaking requires focusing the process on the Secretary’s strategic agenda; improving rational decision support provided by the contingency planning and resource allocation systems; and refining senior leader intuitive decisionmaking capability with exercises and simulations.

These reforms cannot be implemented by fiat. The Pentagon needs a new organizational construct that would be an “honest broker” for improving decisionmaking support. It would be empowered to provide standards and products for both rational and nonrational decision support and would use collaborative teams that draw upon expertise from across the Pentagon’s functional and regional organizations.

Implementing such reform would be difficult, but no more so than the training revolutions that the Services instituted in the 1970s to improve decisionmaking in conflict. The same leap forward at the strategic level is possible, and those who go in harm’s way deserve nothing less…