Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Walter Reed Scandal

Today, every news channel is covering the ongoing Walter Reed scandal 24/7. This is the one in which wounded soldiers were stuffed away in decrepit housing and forced to find their own way through the bureaucratic maze. Two generals and the Army Chief of Staff have been fired, and rightfully so. They were in charge, it happened on their watch, and they bear responsibility. Congress is falling all over itself to see how many investigations it can launch.

But Congress bears some responsibility, too. The reason: Base Realingment and Closure Commission, or BRAC. Congress created BRAC to do what it wasn't capable of doing: making decisions about which bases to close. A few years ago, BRAC decided that Walter Reed should be closed and its functions merged into Bethesda Naval Hospital. That made sense except for an ugly little thing called "war", which left Walter Reed struggling along on crutches. The hospital was unable to keep up with the workload and unable to get resources from the Army and Congress. Since it was slated to close, the brass and Congress reasoned, why spend money on infrastructure upkeep? So our wounded vets were told to tough it out in dank mold-ridden buildings. Donald Rumsfeld would probably have approved.

So the Army, the Bush administration, and Congress bear responsibility for the squalid conditions.

But it's the Army that's responsible for the deplorable bureaucratic jungle they created. Having worked in bureaucracies, I know it's easy for them to spin out of control and take on lives of their own, where "procedures" trump "people". But it doesn't have to happen. A number of years ago, the military was awash in something called "total quality", or TQ for short. TQ focused on procedure to determine better ways of doing business. I thought the way the military implemented it was a pain in the keister, but it had a lot of value.

Apparently, the Army doesn't care about quality any more. Nor its people.

You don't like it? Fill out this complaint form in triplicate, email it to the Lost Cause Department, and somebody will get back to you. Maybe.

No comments: