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Defense Department Tries Rolling Back Bureaucracy

October 9, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Sometimes, even a bureaucracy decides it’s gone too far.

Like it or not, the armed services have been told to stop managing the tiniest details of the operation of their bases around the world.

No more regulations requiring a base commander to get permission from Washington to fix a leaking roof; no more rules telling a serviceman to send off equipment for repair when he can fix it himself; and no more rules telling a base commander his soldiers can’t decide themselves whether cans of spray paint are still good.

Those are real examples, by the way.

Deputy Defense Secretary William H. Taft IV issued the orders in a directive dated Sept. 4 that was not disclosed publicly until Wednesday.

″The commanding officer of an installation is responsible for accomplishing the mission assigned to the installation ...,″ Taft wrote.

″Regulations that limit installation commanders’ freedom to do their jobs are contrary to the basic DoD installation management policy and shall be canceled or revised.

″Except where required to preserve essential war-time support capability ... installation commanders shall be free to purchase goods and services wherever they can get the combination of quality, responsiveness and cost that best satisfies their requirements. Exceptions should be rare.″

To understand why that directive is considered a big deal, Pentagon officials point to the results of a 3-year-old pilot effort known as the Model Installation Program.

Begun on Jan. 1, 1984, the program freed the commanders of 15 bases from most of the rules and regulations that governed the way they ran the base. Like all other base commanders, those participating in the test still received a fixed budget each year for operations and maintenance. But it was up to them to decide for the most part how that money was spent.

And if they saved money, they got to keep it for other projects.

The program ″was considered so popular and successful after the first year that we more than doubled the number of bases participating,″ says Doug Farbrother, the Pentagon’s principal director for installations.

Taft’s directive ″will expand the management approach throughout the Defense Department,″ he adds.

The pilot program quickly resulted in such decisions as the one by an Air Force commander in New Mexico ordering his base engineer to fix a leaking roof rather than write to Washington about it.

Another base commander overrode a directive that specified his servicemen had to obtain a military driver’s license to drive a military car, even though they had a valid state license and could drive their own car on the base.

A commander told his Marines maintaining airplanes in El Toro, Calif., to buy high-quality, guaranteed socket wrenches locally rather than continue to rely on lesser-quality tools purchased through the General Services Administration.

And the commander at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., saved $185,000 by deciding that new carports didn’t need to be built with roofs as sturdy as the houses they adjoined.

″Generally over the years, we have buried our installation commanders in regulations telling them how to do things by the numbers,″ Farbrother said Wednesday.

″We want the commander out there to make the decision on where he gets the best value,″ he said. ″Within that area, I’m not going to second-guess him and I don’t think anyone in Washington should be second-guessing him.″

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