Buried inside the annual Defense Department spending bill approved in the last Congress was a small section that, on first glance looks innocent enough. But as Jonathan Bydlak writes, those few words contain a whopping big change in DoD management:

Tucked away on page 1,031 in Section 902 of Subsection A of Title IX of the conference language was this small paragraph mandating a seemingly insignificant organizational change at the Pentagon.

“Not later than one year after the date of the enactment of this Act — each duty or responsibility that remains assigned to the Chief Management Officer of the Department of Defense shall be transferred to an officer or employee of the Department of Defense designated by the Secretary of Defense, except that any officer or employee so designated may not be an individual who served as the Chief Management Officer before the date of the enactment of this Act.”

What may appear as the elimination of a relatively minor role by the bill is actually the complete dissolution of the third-highest civilian post at the Pentagon. First created in 2007, the position of chief management officer, or CMO, was elevated by Republicans in 2018 to report directly to the Secretary of Defense. The job was most recently held by Lisa Hershman, a businesswoman who first served in an acting capacity before eventually being confirmed in December 2019.  

Just one year later, the language in the 2021 NDAA, inserted by former Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee Mac Thornberry, eliminated the position, oddly excluding Hershman from carrying out any of the responsibilities ever again. 

Thornberry’s win promises to be the taxpayer’s loss.

Why get rid of an office that, arguably, helped make the Defense department’s operations better, and more taxpayer-friendly? Thornberry’s office said the reforms and savings weren’t happening fast enough and lawmakers need to try something different.

The difference Congress approved was getting rid of the office. That looks a lot like trying to kill the messenger – not make it more effective.