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Umm, They’re Right Here...I Mean Management Scientists

As I (Michael C) am wont to do, I alleged in yesterday’s post that the Army doesn’t employ any operations researchers or management scientists. Since I didn’t see any OR people during in Afghanistan or working at a battalion, brigade or group, I assumed they probably don’t exist.

As I wrote this, though, I knew it wasn’t 100% true.

The Army has a handful, but they mostly do work on human resources or weapons testing, in a branch of careers called “Operations Research/System Analysts”. I mean, it’s right there in the title! (In classic Army form, they had to add two letters to the acronym.)

As About.com describes it:

“The Operations Research/Systems Analysis (ORSA) functional area encompasses the application of analytic methods to the solution of varied and complex strategic, operational, and managerial defense issues....ORSA techniques are important decision support tools, and analysis grounded in objective ORSA techniques provides decision makers with a quantitative basis for the evaluation of decision options. ORSA officers frequently bridge the gap among military, science, and management activities.”

The website goes on to describe how ORSA-selected officers work in personnel, combat and general applications of operations research methods.

While ORSA officers exist, they never make it down to the level which needs them the most: operational levels like division, brigade and battalion. The regular Army (think brigades on down) doesn’t interact or incorporate cutting edge research.

Instead, operations researchers exist in the bureaucratic world of the Pentagon, theorizing about hypothetical conflicts with future (possibly fictional) enemies. Look at the list of jobs on the About.com website: “Military Assistant, Deputy Under Secretary of the Army”, “Analyst in Army Materiel Systems Analysis Agency”, and “Analyst in Test and Evaluation Command (TECOM)”. Those aren’t positions helping the troops; they’re positions writing reports in an office buried deep in some wing of the Pentagon.

The gigantic disconnect between cutting-edge Pentagon research and the troops who who could use that research disappoints but doesn’t surprise me. In a few weeks, I plan to start a series on using statistics, Bayes Theorem and other advanced analytical techniques. I can already envision a lot of commenters saying, “But we used Bayes Theorem to crack the Enigma code!” Or, “I had a friend at the Multi-National Corps Headquarters in Iraq who used logistic regression to plan IED sweeps!”

But exceptions don’t disprove the rule: the U.S. Army doesn’t incorporate operations research into its daily garrison and combat operations.

Yeah, the Pentagon has some cool toys and has some operations researchers and management scientists. But regular units--the ones performing 95% of patrols and providing 90% of intelligence and doing 99% of the work--don’t have those tools. I didn’t have (or use) them in Afghanistan.

That’s why I ask where the management scientists have gone. They didn’t disappear from the Army, but they disappeared from combat.

five comments

I got ORSA reports pretty regularly. We had a rep at the BDE level. They were interesting in the abstract, but not really anything I could hand to a TRP Commander or PL.

Michael, There are a lot of OR types throughout the Washington, DC area working in places like Test and Evaluation Command. There is a small army of civilian and contractors actually who carry out this work.
There is a disconnect between some of the work in Test and Eval command for a good reason-they are testing advanced stuff. The military has its hands in cutting edge science, so guys in T&E are actually out there testing new helicopter concepts (or they were when there was a possibility of one in the pipeline).
So, even if you can’t see it, I will say that there are plenty of them out there answering some tough management questions.
Why they don’t make it into the operational world is a good question. I would guess because they have a managerial lens, and the Army views management as above BDE. Above brigade are the endless meetings and decisions about weapons procurement, force structures, timetables, end strength, fuel cost, personnel cost, recruiting numbers. Anything at the lower level is consider operations and should be sent to the S3 shop to be made into a plan for execution.
Also here’s the real Pentagon home of these guys: http://www.g8.army.mil/organization/prog..

First, Stahlke that is good to hear.

Second, to J Donaghy, during a war “advanced stuff” needs to be put on hold to win the wars. So if people are testing stuff on the cutting, cutting edge, most of which will never reach development or pan out, that seems like a waste of resources during a war.

Third, we also need to think about using ORSA types in roles beyond weapons testing. Basically, the Army doesn’t have any OR types analyzing, “How efficient are we as an organization?” Bureaucracies don’t have the pressure to get smaller. This is why we have seen the drastic growth of contractors and brigade/division headquarters. In fact, as the rest of the corporate world is flattening hierarchies, the Armies is widening and lengthening. The OR types aren’t getting their message across, in other words.

It isn’t all on About.com. We, like many other Brigades, have ORSA analysts working right alongside out intel personnel. I used their reports regularly. They are definitely on the front lines, even with the drawdown taking place.

“Basically, the Army doesn’t have any OR types analyzing, “How efficient are we as an organization?” Bureaucracies don’t have the pressure to get smaller.”

And that is painfully evident across western militaries in an era of fiscal restraint, where cuts are made seemingly at random. My favourite theory on organisational growth is Parkinson’s Law, which was intended tongue in cheek, but which is a disturbingly accurate portrayal not only of organisational growth but the growth of unnecessary process (initially simply to fill time, but then it gets institutionalised and becomes formal governance). The response to “do more with less” is always “but the same amount of work exists – who is going to do it?” The response should be a complete review of process in conjunction with structure. I would even take it a step further, and insist that every public organisation have a sunset clause. When reached, its terms of service are compared with its actual operations, and it then either is shut down and its resources are redistributed, or it receives a renewed mandate or a revised mandate and $ and personnel allocations are revised.