Great way to look at the problem, Mark! The housing analogy is something I can appreciate. As a former fire fighter, I also love the fire analogy.
Is it possible that we’ve supplied a substantial “fire hazard” with our “dry” debt – meaning debt unsupported by GDP? If the US debt bundle is touched off by any of our neighbors, the conflagration will be too big for anyone on the planet to put out.
That said, your comment got me thinking about how we might remove “fire hazards” close to home – the ones we can clear ourselves. The Defense Department, for example (an environment I am most familiar with) was given safety rails by Title 10 statute (10USC2222) in 2002 (went into effect in 2005). This statute was written to reduce redundant, irrelevant, or poorly managed investments – particularly in technology – that suck Billions of dollars out of the largest federal budget in the country.
Actions like building and maintaining business system interfaces (the result of limited up-front engineering and coordination), redundant spending (when the Army, Navy or Air Force essentially builds the same thing twice – or when the larger Department (Big DoD) builds one thing, but a Service department or Component build something very similar with overlap functionality – like DIMHRS and DMHRSi ), or “silly spending” (as when a defense contractor “cherry picks” a project (later endorsed and championed by a government POC) because they know they can get it done within a period of performance – instead of having an informed government POC choosing the project that most needs to be done regardless of who does it).
This statute made it a requirement of all organizations governed by Title 10, to submit all modernization, development or enhancement investments over $1 million to a due diligence process (investment review), ensure compliance with the Enterprise Architecture (ensuring application of Enterprise-wide standards), and include them in an Enterprise Transition Plan (ensuring promises made would be promises kept, and that legacy programs would be phases out once they were replaced with new (EA compliant) systems).
When I ran this program for the Military Health System, my teams looked at $1 Billion and managed to send $200 Million back to the Treasury or to other more-worthy programs for a number of reasons mentioned above. Based on our reviews, we should have re-directed a LOT more, but I lacked the political clout or support to pull it off. Resistance and politics were (and I imagine still are) intense.
What if the DoD implemented the kinds of controls originally called for in this statute? What if PMO’s voluntarily coordinated across Service (Army, Navy, Air Force) lines to ensure that whatever they were building could be used, re-used – or at least the data could be shared – by other Services? How many more resources would the Defense Department have to direct towards priorities, the troops, and operations than they have today?
I believe we have lots of opportunity to improve – to coordinate – to squeeze more out of what we’ve got. I don’t believe that efficiencies like this are going to prevent the global debt contagion from affecting our way of life, but I do believe that they can lessen the load that our economy is having to bear without them. Even if we only get $10 billion out of this kind of coordination (I think this is a low number considering my teams found $200 million in a short time despite the current culture conspiring against the effort), that’s $10 billion we don’t have finance – or it’s $10 billion we can re-direct to things that will be hit by the trigger actions set in motion by the failure of the Super Committee.
I’ve uploaded a file. This document is a table handed to me on 10/19/2006. The content was taken by someone from the 2006 Defense Business Agility Forum (which I attended) and shows the results of work done during that conference. It represents the thinking behind the Defense Business Transformation program at the time – thinking that I firmly believe would have resulted in huge resource recapture and savings if it had been marketed. Many of the concepts listed in this table are things that people throughout the Defense Department are capable of implementing. Many of these things may apply to other federal agencies.