- The Washington Times - Monday, August 12, 2002

Morale has collapsed at the Pentagon division that churns out pivotal policy papers to run the war on terrorism, Defense Department employees say.
They say morale reached such a low point that Douglas J. Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy and a major player in war strategy, collected about two dozen of his top managers and ordered them to the Virginia countryside to hash out differences.
During the Aug. 2-3 "off-site," as the government calls such meetings, Mr. Feith listened to gripes about the way the expansive policy apparatus is run. Some complained of extra-long workdays, little feedback on their efforts, Mr. Feith's management style and a stream of white papers (dubbed "snowflakes") from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's sharp pen that must be answered swiftly.
"One woman stood up and told him this was the worst she had seen things in 15 years," said a Pentagon employee who was later briefed on the off-site, held at Airlie House, a conference center in Warrenton, an hour's drive from the Pentagon. "Feith mostly sat and listened."
Mr. Feith is reported to have said that the 10-month-old war on terrorism has thrust a heavy workload on everyone. He assured them Mr. Rumsfeld, a demanding boss, likes the policy arm's products.
One employee reportedly replied, "The reason morale is so low is your people haven't conveyed that message."
In an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Feith said he called the retreat to discuss the office's organization at his one-year point in the prestigious post.
Asked if his staff suffers from a morale problem, he said, "We are an organization that is under a lot of stress, with people who are working extremely hard. The issues are big and important and significant, and the hours are long."
Mr. Feith said that after the retreat, he spoke to the entire policy branch at the Pentagon. He said he is considering changes. One is flextime, whereby workers would be assured time for family commitments, such as the Cub Scouts, or, say, a night at the theater. He also said he will make sure more feedback reaches policy producers.
The unit tackles a number of weighty issues, such as arms-control negotiations, military-to-military relations with key allies and adversaries, and special-operations warfare, a key weapon in the terror war.
Mr. Rumsfeld, a self-described impatient manager, is said to spend much of his time in the world of policy and new ideas, as opposed to weapons acquisition or personnel. He looks to Mr. Feith's policy shop daily for ideas or to respond to his own before he dashes off to a National Security Council meeting or meets with a foreign defense minister.
His demands come in the form of white-paper memos, which Pentagon employees call "snowflakes." They can cascade down at any moment. Sometimes there are tight deadlines, forcing policy-makers to ditch a project to meet the secretary's demands.
"It's near a crisis in low morale because of Feith's inability to communicate well with people," said a second employee who was briefed on the off-site.
Said another policy worker, "Feith is absolutely brilliant. He's intellectually honest. But he's a lawyer, and lawyers don't always make good managers." This source said Mr. Feith sometimes loses his temper and yells at people.
Mr. Feith is one of a handful of Reagan-era Cold Warriors who re-entered government to transform the military but now have a new war to fight. Like fellow neoconservatives, Mr. Feith is skeptical of China's intentions, strongly backs Israel and favors covert or military action against Iraq.
Mr. Feith himself knows what it's like to put in long hours. A prolific writer, he rises at 4 a.m., works at home a few hours, then arrives at the office for a 12- to 14-hour day.
He has plenty of defenders, especially among the neoconservative movement, including his mentor Richard Perle and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.
Managing attorney at the D.C. law firm of Feith & Zell before coming to the Pentagon, Mr. Feith was a special counsel to Mr. Perle when the Reagan-era assistant defense secretary was battling the Soviets.
"I think it's the best policy shop the Pentagon has ever had," said Mr. Perle, who is chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, a group of outside advisers. "They've been doing creative work on almost every issue. They've had a tremendous amount to cope with. The whole department has because of September 11. They've managed to do this despite all the interesting work they are doing on the Middle East, on Russia, on NATO."
He said Mr. Feith, and Gen. Peter Pace, Joint Chiefs vice chairman, have special responsibility for the war's daily operations. "It has generated an endless number of interagency meetings," Mr. Perle said. "They have a lot of responsibility on a daily basis."
Mr. Feith assumed the job just two months before September 11 and has been faced with two major challenges: setting policies for transforming the military the president's pet project and for the far-flung war against terrorists, for which Mr. Rumsfeld is always seeking new approaches.
Mr. Feith's principal deputy undersecretary Stephen Cambone was more Mr. Rumsfeld's right-hand man than Mr. Feith's. The post has gone unfilled since Mr. Rumsfeld named Mr. Cambone as director of program analysis and evaluation.
Said Mr. Feith, "We have a good organization that's working well, and the conditions are difficult because of the war and the long hours and the quick pace of the work. We are focused on how we can improve the quality of life for people who work here, by addressing these problems of long hours."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide