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Expert Panel Q&A: Drilling Down on PPBE Reform's Critical Areas

Max Augros

May 08, 2024

Expert Panel Q&A: Drilling Down on PPBE Reform's Critical Areas-featured-image
In this article

    The PPBE Reform Commission's final report outlined five critical areas for transforming the Department of Defense's resourcing system. During Decision Lens’ expert panel, the speakers provided insights into some of the key recommendations under these critical areas. Here we will dive into the Q&A period, in which all the panelists answered the most pertinent questions surrounding the report.

    Question: What does PPBE reform mean to the financial management workforce today?

    Perhaps the most relevant part of the discussion for the audience was when the panelists weighed in on what PPBE reform could mean for those in budgeting and programming roles today.

    Lance DeSpain, Vice President at Decision Lens responsible for the Air and Space Force business, emphasized changing behaviors over rigid processes, advocating for more continuous, integrated planning: “A lot of the frustration around planning comes from these compressed exercises where everyone is flustered and running around. Instead, we should strive to be asymmetric. Don't be locked into ‘this is when I do X drill, and then this part of the year is when I do Y drill.’” He advised thinking through decisions continuously, not just during strictly scheduled exercise periods.

    DeSpain also stressed fully embracing data analytics: “We're not going to move to a place where we use less data...Learn about the data management tools and take classes.” He issued a warning about not modernizing: “Failure to adopt these things means you won’t have the workforce, since you're forcing them to manually build and manage thousands of static spreadsheets.”

    Decision Lens Senior Vice President Michael Greenberg emphasized the importance of change agents. “Be a change agent if you're a leader. If you're lower in the workforce, think about having an open mind for change.”  Echoing Lance DeSpain’s response, he said that everyone should “learn and leverage technology to your advantage – focus on training with data analytics, AI, machine learning and become familiar with these terms.”

    Chris Gilmore, a retired Navy submarine officer and Vice President at Decision Lens, highlighted the need for the workforce to evolve their processes and skills to leverage data and analytics more effectively. “We need to improve how we use data for analytics, get away from the ‘I own this spreadsheet and that's my job’ mindset, and embrace the journey to make better, data-informed decisions.”

    Gilmore pointed to the Navy's early adoption efforts, like the ‘Get Real, Get Better’ mindset, as an example of empowering people to harness data and drive concrete financial outcomes. However, he acknowledged that fully implementing the PPBE Commission’s suggested reforms “is going to take time to build up the skills, resources, and the workforce that it requires.” 

    Kevin Kawasaki, a Specialist Leader within Deloitte’s Government and Public Services practice, said critical thinking and problem framing abilities will remain paramount, even as analytical tools evolve. “All the data and all the analysis ultimately lead to somebody having to make a decision...choosing between things that aren't that great,” he stated, reinforcing that tools alone won't make tough choices easier.

    Kawasaki stressed the importance of individuals “upskilling themselves” by “being comfortable working with data.” But he also cautioned about overlooking the human element: “Critical thinking is always going to be a key component...framing the problems correctly, that will never go out of style.”

    Question: How will MCAAs help improve the PPBE Process?

    One of the more impactful recommendations is the establishment of new Major Capability Activity Areas (MCAAs) for budgeting, instead of the traditional life-cycle categories. 

    Kevin Kawasaki saw alignment benefits: “Having a construct that better aligns funds toward things that matter might be better, especially since MCAAs will help organizations communicate what they’re spending money on more clearly.” However, he cautioned about deviating too much from the existing Joint Capability Integration Development System (JCIDS), which captures the costs of less tangible things. “If there's a way to synchronize JCIDS and MCAs, there will be good synergy between capturing costs and being able to communicate them better.”

    Chris Gilmore highlighted the flexibility and transparency gains, noting it “allows a program owner to move funds from RDT&E, to procurement, to O&M” while providing “additional oversight from service leaders up through OSD on to Congress.”

    Michael Greenberg summed it up succinctly, noting that separating DoD funds according to an organization’s operations and missions will simplify the budget process: “If you're primarily an RDT&E organization, then you just use RDT&E funds for all the projects and programs in your lane. And likewise, your procurement organization will simply use procurement funds for everything they do.”

    Question: How will changing the way Strategic Guidance is developed, approved, and delivered improve the PPBE process?

    The report calls for combining the Defense Planning Guidance and Fiscal Guidance into a single Defense Resourcing Guidance (DRG) document that is adjudicated by senior leaders.

    Chris Gilmore highlights the shortcomings of the current Defense Planning Guidance, quoting the PPBE Reform Commission’s finding: “It is consensus-driven, late, and lacks the ability to make hard decisions.” He said, “it fails to identify areas of acceptable risk or articulate the concept of divesting from legacy systems to invest in new ones.” He saw the proposed DRG document as an opportunity for real trade-off decisions: “The DRG will have a huge impact if they have those hard discussions on where to take risks and what new capabilities they should invest in.”

    The Path Forward

    The message was clear - PPBE reform will require the workforce to embrace new digital tools, transition to data-centric processes, acquire analytical skills, and adopt flexible, continuous planning mindsets. Failing to evolve risks being left behind. While applauding the report's intent, the panelists acknowledged challenges in implementing such sweeping reforms across the DoD's entrenched culture and bureaucracy.

    As Chris Gilmore stated: “One of the major obstacles is reform requires buy-in from a lot of different's going to take strong champions that are consistent.” Michael Greenberg provided perspective on the scope: “This is probably going to take three to five years to see a lot of these changes and it's going to be incremental.”

    PPBE reform won't be easy, but it is essential. Proactive upskilling, new transformational behaviors and sustained leadership will be required to translate these recommendations into lasting change. 

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