Monday, February 22, 2010

Changes

Never volunteer to work in a contingency environment if you can't deal with changes. You may go into the office in the morning doing one thing, and come out in the evening doing something entirely different. It's certainly going on in my world.

Two of my projects have been cancelled in the past week. The reason is that the Embassy changed the required completion dates. Where we had been planning on a 1-year period for these projects, from the end of March this year to the end of March next year, suddenly the Embassy moved the required completion dates up to the end of December. That meant that two of mine were no longer viable - there wasn't enough time available to do the required work. So with two whacks of the ax, two projects were gone. More may follow.

One of the killed projects was my biggest - a huge effort to provide training to Iraqi provincial governments all around the country. We've been working on developing this thing for nine months. It was extremely complex. The ground rules that we were given were vague, amounting to little more than "provide training to any provincial government on any kind of subject they need, anywhere they need it, any time they need it." Figuring out how to do that took a lot of work. We were just a couple of days from putting it out for bids when it was cut.

On the one hand, it's very frustrating to see nine months' worth of work thrown out like that. My predecessors put heart and soul into it, and then I picked up the ball and pushed it as hard as I could. This was a project that could have had a very positive impact on the ability of local governments to do things like get the roads paved, provide electricity and water, and pay the salaries of school teachers. All to no avail.

On the other hand, they just made my life a lot easier. Managing that program would've been a nightmare.

I'm seeing a very different mentality from US leadership now. They're definitely shifting into a "no more" mindset. For the past several years, fueled by huge amounts of money that Congress allocated, the Embassy and the Corps have been working feverishly to build infrastructure (schools, water, sewers, roads, hospitals, you name it) all over the country. We're now in the end game. By August, we will be down to 50,000 military left in Iraq, none of them (officially) "combat troops". (We will have "advisors", who look remarkably like "combat troops" - the difference is in their mission). And by December, 2011, they'll all be gone. Meanwhile, we're drawing down, too. Our projects are wrapping up. We have just a few left on the drawing board, mine included. But now I'm seeing our leaders thinking that we should close things down even quicker. Starting new projects doesn't close things down quicker. So, of my seven programs, two are now cancelled, I think two more are in danger of being cancelled, one may not go forward for other reasons, one is about to wrap up, and one is safe.

It's a lot of fun being on the front end of things, starting programs and projects left and right. Wrapping things up and shutting things down isn't near as much fun.

But for now, I still have five active programs that I believe in.

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