Even the world’s largest bureaucracy can learn to dance.
As the shift continues from the manufacturing economy of the industrial age to the digital
economy of the information age, US national-security organizations need to transform as well.
American military forces have been, and continue to be, the most capable in the world, but the
national-security infrastructure, refined and perfected during the 40-plus years of the Cold War,
is increasingly ill suited to the challenges the United States faces today. Volatility, uncertainty,
complexity, and ambiguity are so pervasive they have spawned a military acronym: VUCA.
Yet the inherently bureaucratic national-security institutions have failed to keep pace. The US
Department of Defense (DOD) is still largely governed by the Goldwater-Nichols Department of
Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, which focused more on procurement efficiency and unity
of command than responsiveness to volatility, uncertainty, and the rest.
Similar changes are roiling the business world. But there, companies are successfully adapting
by flattening their structures, exploiting modern information technology, and empowering
managers to create flatter, faster-moving, and more flexible organizations. And though some
would argue that these new-age management techniques don’t apply to an organization as
large and complex as the Pentagon, in fact, they have been successfully deployed in numerous
settings in the defense and security arena, and can be usefully adopted in ways that recognize
the DOD’s unique context.