Ironies of the New(est) CIED Task Force

November 15, 2009

Aboard a flight last Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates fumed about news leakers in the DoD to the press corps in flight with him. He then let the cat out of the bag that he’s creating a new(er) Counter-IED Task Force to provide top-cover for the Joint IED Defeat Organization. This brings up a few ironies in the JIEDDO Saga and gives you an understanding of what’s going on with the Pentagon’s counter-IED cornucopia. If you’d like to catch up, I recommend “Left of Boom,” a WaPo series written by Ric Atkinson, which kept my colleagues and me at JIEDDO on the edges of our seats as it was published.

The timing of this announcement is irony #1. Gates said he’d end the careers of leakers then he surprised everyone with this new C-IED TF. Remember that the original task force was created as an ad-hoc, stop-gap measure at a time when IEDs were the most deadly killer in Iraq. Timing for Gates’ statement couldn’t have been more awkward: two weeks prior, Duncan Hunter of the House Armed Services Committee questioned the JIEDDO Director Thomas F. Metz during his testimony, essentially saying “You’re the guy the buck is supposed to stop with. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?” Gates announced his solution two days before Metz’s retirement ceremony.

So the Secretary’s task force with the same name and problem is irony #2. The current Joint IED Defeat Organization (pronounced Jiy-doh) started off as an Army task force in the Pentagon in 2003. JIEDDO is tasked to immediately service the COCOMs (war fighters in all uniforms) but only has the power to ‘coordinate’ and ‘advocate’ for help from the armed services. It’s a classic case of “all the responsibility without the authority.” And now, instead of capitalizing on the structure JIEDDO, the Pentagon has decided to not let JIEDDO pass Go by just editing the directive with some stronger language (and keeping the $200). [1]

While JIEDDO provides rapid responses to the war fighters’ needs, it has trouble convincing the services to take ownership of successful widgets and systems to become what the services call programs of record, or, enduring capabilities. That is, stuff to buy on layaway from JIEDDO. This promise is something JIEDDO is supposed to secure for each and every idea that merits funding per its rapid acquisition process.[2] A problem is there are already redundancies in capabilities (everyone is racing to this fight) and because the services dodn’t like JIEDDO telling them how to spend their money. Making these matters more difficult, enemy tactics outpace the 36 month transition/transfer process. Like General Metz has explained, “The bad guy doesn’t care about our budget cycles.” Even Al Qaida has said “you have the watches, we have the time.” Irony #3 is although C-IED funds have been described as ‘angel investment’ into risky new ideas that may pan out, there are virtually no buyers when the ideas go public because that new smell is gone or they don’t go public because they’re already obsolete.[3]

Enter Congress’s auditors from GAO into the halls and files of JIEDDO in 2007 and 2008. Their determination that JIEDDO had “no fiduciary oversight” came at the time that IED events were on the uptick and JIEDDO was just getting into a records management routine beyond color-coded folders and a shared network drive. No one was allowed to ask them, “Did you see where I put that funding memo?” The lack of oversight was not symptomatic of a lack of success; getting the hard work done has always been the priority and oversight in the chaos has been an after-thought. The ROI and MOE are developed concurrently with IOC and even FOC. The attitude behind rapid development in JIEDDO is (or was) “This is new and this is war!” It’s not that JIEDDO hasn’t developed successful ideas, just that once the ideas are proven, they’re supposed to be owned by the end-user so JIEDDO can move onto the next threat.

Should JIEDDO have been trudging up to Congress every quarter to explain the development status of its secret sauce? By law, yes. Would it have helped the war fighter? No (except for the continued funding from the supplemental budget). A representative’s constituency? Maybe if he gets good sound-bites like Hunter did. Perhaps government oversight was unrealistic in the environment of contracting firms responding to “Need it yesterday!” Indeed, JIEDDO didn’t get the manpower it ‘advocated’ for from the services nor OPM until pretty much this Fiscal Year. That’s 2010, people.

Does all this, plus the SecDef’s decision to create a new C-IED Task Force, suggest that JIEDDO isn’t doing its job? No, just that the job of ‘leading, advocating and coordinating’ joint service efforts is best done by a bigger dog. It’s the same sh**, different AO (Afghanistan). The new TF will be headed by the Undersecretary of Acquisition, but led by the Marine Corps’ J3. To get the services to play nice with all Pentagon-level C-IED efforts, it might take a Marine general to make sure our war fighters on the ground aren’t affected by Beltway bureaucratic failures. Ooh Rah!

[1] JIEDDO was quickly given lots of money and acquisition leeway to “defeat the IED as a weapon of strategic influence.” The organization you hear about today was officially established by DoD Directive 2000.19E in 2005. Its mission statement starts off “JIEDDO shall focus (lead, advocate, coordinate) all Department of Defense actions…”


[2] JIEDDO’s initiative funding, review and transfer process now called JCAAMP had been in the works ever since a bunch of scientists in the Pentagon were joined by Dr. Robin Keesee, the SES formerly appointed as Deputy Commander of RDECOM (a major R&D and Acquisition command). They had decided the best way to counter the easiest, cheapest home-made weapon was by going to the opposite end of the funding and sophistication spectrum: ramming high-tech initiatives through the R&D pipeline at top speed with more billions of dollars than you’d realize is available for what amounts to international crime fighting.

[3] JIEDDO’s rapid acquisition plan assumed that the services would not only play nice, but hold hands and skip. It was the best a bunch of salty, nerdy, military retirees who’d earned their stripes and knew the game could do to ‘coordinate’ active duty 0-6s and above. It’s why retired four-star General M.C. Meigs was originally called to the director’s chair and was given divine right to pick from le crème de la crème to help him…there was lots of bureaucracy to cut through to get the job done. But the overarching issue is still that JIEDDO creates useful products for an un-paying customer and is supposed to market them to consumers who’ve already planned out their budget.


One comment

  1. I was there, well before you came aboard.

    There was never any oversight intended for funding, because OSD and Treasury decided NOT to allow JIEDDO to have it’s own account. Instead it went by way of an unfortunately circuitous Army funding route. There were several valid operational and a few political reasons for that decision.

    The failure to transition initiatives to POR was due directly to the lack of internal coordination and agreement with the various wonks-in-charge (WIC) of the assorted functional divisions. Not one WIC wanted to hear the words “transition planning” because the concept belonged in the too-hard-to-do box, and smelled of stability and continuity – not chaos, the breeding ground of the ambitious.

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