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CNO launches attack on sailor busy work

Jun. 18, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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The Navy is still working on a website that will collect sailor ideas for reducing the administrative burden. In the meantime, Navy Times would be happy to hear them. Send your red tape-related complaints and/or ideas for improvement Include your rate/rank and hometown or duty station, and your letter could appear in a future print edition of Navy Times.

The chief of naval operations’ No. 1 tenet is “war fighting first.”

But in practice, it’s too often “war fighting … after all this damn administrative work gets done.”

The bureaucracy is stifling the mission, says Adm. Jon Greenert in a new memo in which he highlights the problem and tasks a fellow four-star with fixing it.

“I have been made aware, from the chain of command and from direct feedback from the fleet, that we are spending too much time performing administrative tasks, or perhaps completing duplicative or competing requirements … which keep all of us from being effective — that prevent us from keeping ‘warfighting first,’” Greenert wrote in the May 21 memo to Adm. John Richardson, the director of the Navy Nuclear Propulsion Program.

Greenert ordered Richardson to stand up a task force to wade through the seemingly endless administrative taskings, determine ways in which to reduce them and, ultimately, put warfighting front and center.

Once fully formed, the group will include representatives from “all communities and all levels of the chain of command,” Greenert said.

A small contingent of officers has already started its work, but the group is expected to grow in the coming days to include enlisted, said Rear Adm. Herman Shelanski, who has been tapped for the task force.

Gathering feedback

Greenert wants a “detailed review of administrative requirements,” but also wants the group to “propose programs that can be eliminated, reduced, converted to electronic media, automated or otherwise made more efficient.”

One of the group’s first steps, Shelanski said, will be to collect feedback from the fleet. To do so, a website will be created soon to “crowdsource” suggestions.

“Our aperture is way open, and we want to hear from the fleet,” Shelanski said. “There is no stupid suggestion out there.”

The survey will be designed to elicit problems and solutions. For example, is there a boneheaded bureaucratic policy slowing you down? When asked for an example, Shelanski said the Navy tends to inundate sailors with inspections. He wondered if there are inspections that can be done more efficiently or simply eliminated.

Have you already found a way to shear away red tape? Is it a technique that can probably help other sailors? Maybe you use an iPad app to reduce tasks. Or maybe you’ve independently cut out some redundant functions in your own shop.

Shelanski said he’s relying on some younger, tech-savvy sailors to step up.

“We’ve got iPads, tablets, smartphones … all this technology. We’ve got a generation of young sailors who really know how to use this stuff,” he said. “We’ll try to tap as much of that talent and innovation as we can.”

The hope is to compile suggestions and select a dozen or so that can be implemented by the end of the calendar year, Shelanski said. Another round of fixes can be scheduled in 2014 and beyond.

Shelanski pointed out that while Greenert’s memo orders Richardson to stand up the group, the admiral actually volunteered for the challenge and is a proponent of innovation.

Some in the Navy may roll their eyes at the the idea of an administrative working group tasked with eliminating unnecessary administration, Shelanski acknowledged. But he said he sees a lot of potential to instill real change, especially if the deck plates answer the call.

Much of it will have to be voluntary, he said. “A lot of it is going to have to come from those sailors who say, ‘I’ve got a solution.’”

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