While having the Senate Armed Services Chairman, Senator John Warner, push the plunger to remove the Embry Dam and free the Rapahannock seemed like a one of a kind opportunity, in reality its success was paved by smaller dam removals in North Carolina in the Clinton Administration. While far from a cut and paste from the successes in N.C., we did take advantage of prior lessons learned, and pushed the idea of getting more from each appropriated tax dollar a bit further, bringing civilian biologists and engineers to work with demolition experts from both the Army and Air Force. It proved to be a partnership with one heck of a punch of cost effectiveness.
By the time I left my position as Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works it looked like projects that used existing government capabilities to their maximum would become the norm. However, a climate of cuts and partial year funding through a series of continuing resolutions have left many agencies in a bunker mentality, focused on holding onto their appropriations rather than determining an optimized way to generate more for the public with less. We must find ways to break the bunker mentality.
Collaborative efforts that span civilian shortfalls and military capabilities and training mission needs are one great way to make headway on doing more with what Congress appropriates. This doesn’t mean reallocating congressionally directed funds – it’s not about an effort to circumvent Congress.
It is about an effort by the executive side of government to be more nimble and creative, drawing together agencies where their statutory authorities and capabilities naturally overlap. We hear a lot about partnerships and collaboration in D.C., but I’m speaking of tangible projects, not just process alone, and that’s where we’ve really fallen short in the past few years.
Lining up projects in which a civilian agency has a real-world project with a military whose trainers seek out real-world conditions to maximize the value of their training is a great place to start.
What is needed to reinvigorate this type of cost-effective collaboration in government is a catalyst - and more specifically in the Department of Defense - an authority they can easily reference. DoD has a strong top down culture, and nothing brings more attention to an issue than a call to action from the very top.
Secretary Panetta has the right background to understand the need for projects in the civilian agencies which could use some help from our highly capable Armed Services as well as the military trainer’s needs for hands-on projects which maximize readiness during those times our sailors, soldiers, airmen and marines are stateside for training.
A memo from Mr. Panetta calling for members of our Armed Services to find ways for them to simultaneously maximize their impact within and outside of DoD would be just the sort of catalyst that energizes and empowers those in DoD to generate as much benefit as possible for America.
We must find ways to break the bunker mentality and can’t-do attitudes that are too commonplace in D.C. Maybe the end to D.C. gridlock comes through cost effective efforts which result in real benefits to Americans such as those that simultaneously maintain a strong military and a healthy environment.
If Mr. Panetta is looking for a place to start, he’s welcome to follow in Senator Warner’s steps and take out a big, derelict dam as a highly visible example of what is possible. I know of one in California, near Monterey - the San Clemente Dam - that’s ready to go right now!
John Paul Woodley served as the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works in the George W. Bush Administration from 2003-2009, a position which was preceded by Mr. Woodley’s service as the Assistant Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Environment) from 2001-2003. He and Senator John Warmer were side-by-side when Senator John Warner (then the senior Senator from Virginia and the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee) pushed the plunger exploding the derelict Embrey Dam, restoring shad to the upper reaches of the Rappahannock River to the cheers of thousands of onlookers.