US Joint Force Command
Anyone who has worked at JFCOM knows what is coming with sequestration. They had a preview of how our government handles this sort of business. For those of you that don’t know how this works, here is a story for you.
Just a few years ago while working at (USJFCOM) US Joint Forces Command as a Consultant, I was a witness to a slow-moving train wreck. It is amazing that although devastating to many, it essentially unheard of in any public discussion today . The other very interesting part about the JFCOM closure was the psychological impact and the potential case study that was once again seemingly ignored. As a person who was there through it all from beginning to end, I would like you to know what really happened and why it is important today.
I was working on a project that helped senior leaders and decision makers by creating simple to complex patterns known as Architectures. From my perspective the work was and is important. For years I had watched and learned from military and civilian leadership the process of knowledge transfer to better our DoD Enterprise from end to end. Unfortunately, even though they saw the economic and political situation coming there was nothing that anyone could do to stop JFCOM from closing.
It started with rumors
Pss Pss Pss.. Buzz. “I hear JFCOM will be losing some funding.”
“I heard JFCOM could close”
“No, that could NEVER happen”
It happened slowly, day after day. We heard rumors every day, they were everywhere. Our government civilian leadership didn’t know what to tell anyone because they didn’t know. Our military leadership started to learn what was going on but they couldn’t tell anything to anyone. I don’t know if anyone else has termed this phrase but I would like to call this “The Milton Effect” like Milton from the movie Office Space. Essentially, the Bob’s came in and just fixed the accounting error. Unfortunately none of us knew that was happening or at the time knew what it meant.
Some people were just outright convinced that nothing was happening and that we should just relax. Most of those folks were senior contractors or consultants that had seen and heard rumors over the “good” years, where the government just spent money and prosperity ensued. I remember August of 2010, my civilian client just got handed a job that he had been preparing for years to execute. We had a plan and mission that was to save the DoD millions. The day he was given permission to execute his plan was a Friday, on that following Monday Robert Gates released “THE MEMO” which basically was the kiss of death for the great Combatant Command. All of the planning and hard work that went into this work was stopped immediately and all bets were off. What followed after the release of the memo was a domino effect of chilling and devastating personal and economic pandemonium.
Those damn contractors, they aren’t employees of the government and don’t deserve any considerations. How do you treat those who mow your lawn? And so, it began. The quiet rooms and whispers in the halls, the separation of people in unexpected and surprising ways. For all purposes, it was just like “Survivor.” Who was getting voted off the island? Would there be an island? There were tears in cubicles and there was anger in the air. Short tempers were everywhere and people snapped at each other . The conditions continued to degrade. One of my favorite stories was when a Senior General Officer called us into a meeting to tell us that he would “Always be open and honest and tell everything he knows.” Except that he couldn’t and when the situation degraded and we met again he said ” I have to honest with you, I lied.” Contracting and consulting companies didn’t know what to tell employees and panic was in the air for some, really for most of us.
JFCOM was a think tank in a lot of ways. People are out fighting wars and those who support them are thinking about how to help those people. It could be said that JFCOM needed to go, but I know the hearts of many that supported our war fighters. I know their love for America and for the men and women that sacrifice their time and lives. There was value that came from JFCOM, it was measurable, it was documented.
If someone walked up to you and punched you in the stomach and took your wallet and as you went down put an elbow to the back of your head, it would have been an easier blow than this. This was long and drawn out. Day after day of not knowing and being fed misinformation from trusted sources. They were misinformed too.
It wasn’t the economic situation that was most devastating, it was the emotional toll. It was coming home and telling our families that we don’t know what is happening and that we don’t know at all anything that will happen. It was the unknown of the abyss and that is what it was, a dark time looming. As people started to push each other away, others started looking for other options in terms of work. We met with our company leaders from all of our organizations and we started to think about what the world would hold for us. You see, we don’t work for a factory that is closing or a business that is going out, we work for organizations that support the government. More specifically the defense industry. Is it even possible that someone could close down the American defense machine? The short answer is “yes”, the long answer is “no.”
My uncle tells a story of my cousin working for a large company closing down one of its factories. He said that everyone was handed a pink slip except my cousin. My cousin was very worried and he knew that with his skills he could transfer somewhere else in the company. He went to his manager and asked what would happen to him. His manager looked at him and said “We can’t let you go, we don’t know what you do!”
Funny but true, JFCOM was very similar except that the DoD was betting that JFCOM didn’t do many things that were worth holding or for that matter studying. All of the initial studies that looked at JFCOM were lacking information. They really only looked at dollars at the moment. They didn’t look at all of the implications and they never asked the questions that would clearly show the value of JFCOM. With that they didn’t care about JFCOM and made the cuts.
When Hostess Brands closed its doors http://hostessbrands.com/Closed.aspx I am very sure that all of the workers were upset and with the sheer number of workers cut, it would hurt the economy. The difference is that Hostess wasn’t telling their employees that rumors of the company closing are just rumors or that Hostess will change the signage on the face of the building and be something else. For certain, Hostess employees know that they need to go and find other jobs. This is not the case in our industry. “Listen, JFCOM will just change to YRfriendCom and we will continue the mission.”
Continue the mission? What the hell does that mean? What mission? Eventually, the flow of funding started to end. The money stopped coming and the people started walking. It was a dead man’s walk to the door. It was tearful lunches, every week. Every Friday, we toast old friends and wish them well as they start on their journey. Civilian leaders are shifted and the sign is taken down. Some of the work was transferred and the leadership is able to keep the civilians employed by moving them around. If a civilian knew how to spell something that a contractor in another division was doing, that civilian could find him or herself in that position as a subject matter expert. One friend went from Public Affairs Officer to Internet Expert.
And so, after many months of people being laid off or moved around or finding their own way out and onto something new they went from one ship that sunk to another. In this industry it is clear that no one is safe. If you aren’t growing, you are sinking, there is no such thing as “stability.” The emotional toll of the JFCOM closure was severe in that we were a witness and victim to the true nature of political games that our Washington representatives play. It boils down to the fact that we were and are being undermined by the people who are elected to help us. You think I am being long-winded? Maybe, I haven’t said enough. You are already feeling the effects of this bad behavior.
This year YOU are subject to a raise in taxes. This year our military takes a pay a cut. This year programs are going to run out of money and our government officials don’t even really know the implications.
It will be slow. It will be painful for people in waves. It will go noticed in only the community it has an effect on during the time that it hurts the community. It will result in emotional and economic pains that will impact cities and states in ways that could make America the Detroit of the world. The problem isn’t that funding is being cut or that our programs don’t have money. The problem is the sneaky and procedural way that this is happening. It is blow after blow and blow and our memory as country is so bad and we are so distracted by other things, we are losing everything and don’t know it while it is happening. It is like Congress, the Senate and the Executive office is pickpocketing America.
How do I know? Well, not only because it happened and history repeats itself but also because I am watching it happen in slow motion again. Last week a friend of mine was away on military support business in a far away foreign land providing support and maintenance for a very important military activity. In the middle of what he was doing, he had to stop and travel home from this very far away place. His contract is out of funding and the work that is important is left undone until they can possibly sort out the funding.
As I talk to friends and neighbors in places near and far I hear the echos of General So and So telling me that he is honestly going to tell me everything he knows. I am seeing people losing their work, contracts being defunded, the whispers and the infighting for whatever government crumbs that appear to lay at the top of the fish tank. I hear of the uncertainty from people in many companies and people discussing their options on a daily basis.
Lastly, I see our government leaders go on vacation and our President hanging with his friends in Florida. If you think for a minute that you or I could look the other way and say that this is not my problem or that this will not have any affect on you, take some time to think about the history of our world and the history of our country.