The Golden Fleece(ing)

Many may gripe about Congressional defense pork. You know, funding that some consider jobs programs in lawmakers’ districts’ (so constituents can, well, survive).

Without help from the Earls of Earmarks, the services have created their own Billion Dollar Monster. Oddly enough it is not a product but a service, and one the services can perform quite well.

The Defense Department is spending nearly a billion dollars in the much-touted (though rarely understood) realm of strategic communication.

According to recent reports, strat comm budgets have exploded. Where the U.S. Central Command spent “just” $40 million in 2008, it apparently plans to shell out $244 million during 2010. Proposed 2010 spending across DoD was reduced from $1 billion to $626 million, possibly because no one could define the need.

In terms of dollars, this is a small fish is a vast sea, but it may be a classic tail-wagging-dog scenario, a “need” created by an industry looking to bilk deep-pocketed DoD. CENTCOM, OSD, and each of the services, have been sold on strategic communication as the cure-all elixir for all communications woes (perceived or otherwise). Uncovering unrealized needs? These shills wrote the book.

Strategic communication has long been a public affairs function. Great PAOs have been great strategists. Mediocre PAOs have been marginal communicators for their masters. And mediocrity is what the Defense Department is getting. Contractors have convinced their uniformed clients their people can communicate strategically and mo’ better. This has made little sense to many, and even PA-hating infantry types ask, “Why isn’t this public affairs?” (The tenets of public affairs, internal information, external information, and community relations, can be shaped to fit any commander’s intent.)

Substandard PAOs and disinterested commanders have created a communications void. Contractor involvement has enabled a vicious cycle of lackluster PA performance and increased corporate profits. Short-term consultant assistance could be useful, but have been the exception. Companies put their PA-trained chickens into place and let them lay those golden eggs.

What simple concept will be repackaged and sold next?

Can the Defense Department begin to jettison these strategic communication contracts?

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