Undersecretary of the Army Joseph Westphal speaks at his Pentagon office in Arlington, Va., on Thursday. (James J. Lee / Staff)
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After years in academia and as a government insider, it's no accident that Undersecretary of the Army Joseph Westphal's portfolio is more fitting for a wonk than a warrior.
The Army's budget, diversity in the ranks, business transformation and energy efficiency are under his authority.
Facing hefty budget cuts amid Congress' brinksmanship over sequestration, Westphal spoke with Army Times about internal efforts to streamline the Army over the past few years and said new cuts would damage the service — and the nation.
"When you begin to unravel that, the role of the Guard in our communities, for instance, you begin to say, ‘My God, this is an incredible force to help our country's economic development, its growth and standing in the world,'" he said.
A former chancellor of the University of Maine system, Westphal has served as the Army chief of civil works, and as its acting secretary in 2001. He held a post with the Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton administration and various jobs in Congress.
Speaking in a jovial — if soft-spoken, even professorial — air, Westphal gave a visitor a brief tour of his vast office at the Pentagon, beaming over a picture of him and then-President Clinton in the Oval Office. He showed off a challenge coin — one of dozens — from the fictitious 23rd Airborne Division, a memento from his upcoming cameo on Lifetime's series "Army Wives."
But he is proudest of his four children, whose photos face his desk from an end table.
"They watch everything I do," he said.
Here are excerpts from Westphal's Thursday interview with Army Times.
Q. The Army is launching a task force to review behavioral health diagnoses to 2001, which you and Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Lloyd Austin are going to lead. What does this task force have to do to maintain faith in Army medicine? How will it execute its mission?
A. [Army Secretary John McHugh] was very concerned about many of the things coming out in the news and about what was going on with the evaluation process, and the management of how we deal with PTSD. And so he decided to take a very comprehensive look at it rather than going piecemeal, to look at it here and there. And he decided that the top leadership of the department, the vice and I, are the two people to lead it. The idea was to do a number of things within this framework. Number one was to do a comprehensive review of everything that's happened.
Q. What's the actual process going to look like of conducting the review?
A. We've got in the secretary's direction, very specific tasks with timelines that are given to us. So we have within a certain period of time to organize these surveys and have all these activities going on and reporting through the task force, which is led by [Lt. Gen. David Perkins, the commander of Fort Leavenworth, Kan.]
Then that task force, we will be meeting with the task force on a regular basis, the vice and I. Some will be personal, or through [video teleconference]. And we will be getting reports from them as they are collecting information and gathering what will constitute a plan of action.
Q. Isn't there a report due and some statistical sampling?
A. There is a survey that's going to take place.
Q. Army-wide or of all soldiers who have received behavioral health diagnoses?
A. The latter.
Q. Active duty, or both in an out?
A. In and out. You're going back to 2001 so you're going back through a lot. If we have to do some remediation with those who have left the service, that's something we'll have to report to the secretary and make recommendations of how to take care of those individuals who weren't treated well.
So without making a lot of assumptions as to what happened, there were some things that happened that shouldn't have happened, and we need to correct that.
In addition to that, we have to look at the pattern of things. I think it will also help as we wrestle with [the Integrated Disability Evaluation System] as a program, to make it more effective and faster, and better integrated between us and the [Veterans Administration]. I think this will help us zone in on the issues that are creating the backlog.
Q. How far can you go? What are the implications of the review you're undertaking? If for instance, you found thousands of soldiers whose problems were misdiagnosed or under-diagnosed, what happens then? Are there financial ramifications?
A. We have to fix that, we have to address that for those soldiers; we really do. We owe it to them. The one thing we don't want to do is put economics ahead of that activity. That's precisely what we want to avoid.
We realize, the president understands this, I'm convinced, and the secretary of defense and the secretary of the Army are convinced, we put men and women in harm's way; we asked them to make incredible sacrifices for our country, and when they come back, if they're wounded or ill, or whatever happens to them, we need to take care of them.
If we start putting economics ahead of that—we don't have enough money, we can't afford to hire people, we can't afford to do that—how are we going to count on people in the future to put their lives on the line for us? How are we going to count on a force that will trust that we have their interests in hand?
We're not going to avoid those issues. We're going to deal with them and we'll get those resources.
Q. You're the business guy, the efficiency guy. The well-known RAND study on PTSD and TBI found that it costs more in the long run if people aren't treated, it ultimately costs more.
A. I remember I was here as the assistant secretary for civil works so I wasn't in any way involved, but I heard all the stories about Gulf War Syndrome and all the issues associated with that because we had ignored that issue. I think that's a lesson to be learned, and one that I feel is important.
I think you're right, these problems accrue. They not accrue not only in their financial cost, but in their cost to families, the cost to the Army in terms of readiness and effectiveness. They have an overwhelming impact on our societies as a whole.
Q. If we can we talk about the budget and sequestration, the latest scary number is that there could be a loss of as many as 180,000 troops. At that level, what does the Army become and what can it do?
A. The first thing is, reducing a force isn't something you can do in six months. It takes a considerable amount of time to turn this big ship in whatever direction you need to turn it.
Whether it's members of Congress, or others who think they can just sequester and all of a sudden, we can ratchet down, it just doesn't happen that way. We have contracts, we have agreements and commitments to people that we can't ignore.
We began planning for the current downsizing two years ago. We learned that just to come down to 490,000 — there were different scenarios about how far to come down — it would take this long to do it. Particularly to do it in a way while we were still in combat, to do it in a way that we weren't really, really hurting our soldiers and their families, and without going back on everything we had committed to do.
The second thing is the president's strategy that he, the Joint Chiefs and us all participated in, and it was a very open and very comprehensive review of strategy that we put together.
This reduction in the size of the Army is now aligned to that strategy, and consequently if there is a sequestration of massive numbers of cuts we have to make in equipping, in infrastructure, and obviously in manpower, we can't support that strategy — and neither can the Marine Corps, neither can the Navy, neither can the Air Force. Everybody's going to be in the same boat as to how can we do this.
There's nothing that tells me — and I read Army Times — that the world is getting peaceful, that there is less danger out there, that the threat is less to the United States. The threat is more advanced, it's more sophisticated, and it's more technological.
So we've got a strategy that's trying to align to those changes in the world and we're going to need the forces to do that.
Q. What's your biggest fear about sequestration and the worst-case scenario?
A. The worst-case scenario is not a force that would be smaller, but that it would be very difficult to keep that force trained and ready. We'd suffer significant reductions in the equipping piece. We'd essentially, probably be moving toward a hollow force.
Hopefully for all of us, the economy continues to improve; it will be more difficult to recruit people into the force — particularly if they believe that the leadership of this country can't honor its commitments to them. I think the country suffers some risk. Q. You talked about planning for potential cuts. As these across-the-board cuts loom, can you plan for it? Isn't it responsible to plan for it?
A. It's a really good question, and you could look at it two ways. I can be feisty and say, ‘Should we plan for catastrophic effects?' We should really be standing up and saying — and we have been in all our testimony to Congress — that you can't do this, you just can't do this. You're not doing it to an entity; you're doing it to our country. Again, it doesn't just affect the Army.
There are processes in Congress to resolve these issues. They're choosing not to use them, and they have gone to this extreme: sequestration.
My sense of it is, how do you plan for your own demise? How do you plan for something that so significantly undermines everything you stood for [for] 237 years? It's difficult to do that.
Q. Does that means there is some kind of planning, some kind of work being done?
A. No. We're not doing in any scenarios, we're not doing any budget drills, and we're not doing any analysis. But, given the fact that we began with [former Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates where each of the services had to cut $30 billion that was moving $30 billion from redundancies to meeting the needs of the war-fighter. It wasn't really a cut; it was a shifting of resources. Nevertheless, we had to come up with $30 billion.
And then you go into trying to reduce your budget to meet the cuts imposed by the budget act. We have gone through this significant amount of planning to get where we are today. We don't have to go though budget drills to teach us what happens if you have to double that. You just know. We've been through it.
We've tried—and the secretary of defense has worked extremely hard to say to Congress, it's not that you can't cut us. Let's find a way to get to the right place. We're trying to do our part in defense to be more effective and efficient—and we haven't by any means reached all the levels of efficiencies or eliminate the redundancies that we could.
Q. As far as reset goes, do you have a sense of what it will cost? As [Congressional overseas contingency operations] funding diminishes, how does the Army pay for reset? Do the budget reductions make that process stretch over time?
A. We know and we've emphasized with the committees in congress—-and they are very supportive today—that after combat ceases in Afghanistan, that we will have a couple of years of OCO reset monies.
What those amounts will be, there will be some negotiation on that depending on how we assess how we will retrograde out of Afghanistan and what the condition of equipment is at the end of those two years. We suspect it's about the level that we're at today, maybe a little lower, for the next couple of years to reset.
We realize that we can get it done in that time if we have the resources. If we don't have the resources, we have some problems; we have a lot of equipment that is used, and used pretty hard. That will make it difficult to train on, and that can cause some readiness problems for us.
Q. The Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and the Ground Combat Vehicle — will those be open to full and open competition?
A. I certainly hope so, and we are required to open programs of that size to competition. The GCV, we limited the design development piece so we could move along a lot faster. Once that design is out there, it will be open—and so is JLTV, absolutely.
Q. Given the length of the development time, do you think that will equal cost savings, by putting it out to competition?
A. Absolutely. That's the whole reason for it. On the development piece, we were really trying to limit the requirements that we demanded on the GCV. And I'm sure that as the development piece matures, we'll be able to refine those requirements.
We're trying to — not reduce the requirements — but manage them so they're not all over the place, and we can reduce costs.
I think we're headed in the right direction, and the same with the JLTV. We're working closely with the Marine Corps so that we can capture some economies of scale that we haven't done before. We ought to be doing more of that in my view.
Q. I know something very important to you, as the top-ranked Latino in the Army, is diversity. We're in an Army now that's studying the prospect of sending women to Ranger school, "don't ask, don't tell" has been repealed. Is this a very different Army than it was several years ago?
A. I think it is. I think it's an evolving and very different Army in some ways. But it still has a long ways to go in other areas. The fact that you and I can go to Afghanistan and go right out to where the fight is and see women alongside men in combat operations, regardless of the fact that they're in a support role, is an amazing thing for the Army.
I think the diversity of the [noncommissioned officer] corps is very strong along all dimensions. There, we're in good shape. Where I think we need some work is on the officer corps. As that pyramid of promotions gets more difficult to climb, we need to be much more aggressive in opening opportunities to create more diversity in the officer corps.
Q. Why do you think it's not happening, and how do you jump-start it?
A. This is not a scientific look but a Joe Westphal view. Part of it is minorities that have traditionally been economically disadvantaged in our society will come into the Army and are looking for opportunities to learn and get an education and get some training — and perhaps, and again this is not scientific — they are looking for opportunities that if they leave the force, they'll have a job. They'll have the ability to transfer that learning and training to some kind of opportunity in the future. They're being very realistic and very practical.
The infantry, as an example, doesn't lend you to that. So the infantry is less populated by minorities, but the infantry — and armor would be the same — it would be those combat [military occupational specialties] that are generally the ones that have the greater opportunity to get promoted.
Q. Folks aren't looking at long-term careers in the officer corps? Is something in the system working against them?
A. There are probably some institutional biases, probably some individual biases that take place as decisions are made. So that's something we have to work on. The chief of staff [Gen. Ray Odierno] is very committed to fix that issue across the board.
We have to make it so that if you asked, can a signal officer or a quartermaster officer or an engineer officer move up the ranks as an artilleryman, why not and what's the impediment?
Q: The next frontier is gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender soldiers. Is it time to extend partner benefits in an Army where family values are important, but what defines them differs from person to person?
A. We can't work on it as an Army alone. We're working as part of a team with the Department of Defense, the Office of Personnel and Readiness. So we are continuing to engage how we move benefits forward. I think everybody realizes we have to move in those directions and address those issues. Like everything else, it's once you sit around the conference table and start peeling the onion, and talking about how you do this, it's not as easy as you think.Q. It's not just a matter of the politics?
A. I've been in tons of meetings; I was in all the meetings about "don't ask, don't tell" [repeal] and it's amazing how people put their personal feelings aside. Not that I know all their personal feelings, but you can sense they are trying very hard to be ethical, to do what is right for the best interests of the country, to try to move our society forward, and not to create more impediments to our society moving forward.
Q. Do you think we may wind up seeing personnel changes that allow quartermasters, say, to move up into positions, that we'll see more senior officers that don't necessarily come from combat arms? Will we see some changes to make it easier for the officer corps to diversify?
A. I personally think we are going to get there, yes. As I said, I have talked to the chief about this and I think he's committed to taking a hard look at how we get more diversity in the officer corps and how we can open up those lanes.
In any profession, including yours, mentoring is a very important factor. For young officers who are minorities or young women, the mentoring that allows them to understand and figure out how to progress is very important. That mentoring needs to be there, and some times in the past, it hasn't been there. I think we're much more committed.
We're also really ramping up education for the officer corps, and that opens up people's apertures big time. I'm hopeful that will happen.
I'm also very concerned about civilian leadership development. That's another critical element, but less about diversity.
Q. You've been a part of transforming the civilian workforce. How does the Army retain quality people and—as we referenced earlier—weather the fiscal environment we're in? I've seen that civilians feel uncertain about advancement prospects, that they aren't managed as consistently as they could be. What's on the horizon for them?
A. It's really important that you have a career path. When you write a resume, it's important that you put in job titles and responsibilities that will make sense to the people who will read it.
One of the things that happen a lot in our department is that there are a lot of people without a real clear career track. You're called a program manager—what the heck is that? If you're a lawyer or a scientist, it's much more defined.
So we're trying to put people on career paths, and we have pretty much succeeded. We have almost the entire Army and civilian corps logging into a career path. They can see their opportunities for advancement, attend meetings and take courses. If I do this, I get promoted or do this and I end up over here.
Then for the more senior civilians, I want to do the same thing as I do for the military. For that colonel, my executive officer, and that [senior executive service] that's my deputy; same education I want that civilian to have, so that they have the same growth and development opportunities as well.
On the military side, they are very attuned and very accepting of moving around and going from one job to another—here three years and somewhere else three years.
On the civilian side, they don't see themselves as willing to move around, and its a hindrance because i order to progress, and for us to benefit from their experiences, we need them to move a little bit.
We're trying to create opportunities, and for that we'll need resources, to enable the physical transportation and movement of people that you would have in the private sector or the military.
Q. Sequestration or no, what does the Army absolutely have to do in the coming lean years? Are there sacrifices it will have to make? Will its role change?
A. We do talk about our Army of 2020, and in that Army, I really believe we are shaping a very different force — a very highly educated force, a much more technologically educated force.
Areas like cyber and intel are very important and they're going to require a lot more sophistication from our people. I think we're going to have to also achieve things that allow us to market ourselves better to the American public, that we're not just a ground force to trudge out there but a sophisticated element safeguarding the United States.
Not only are we technologically advanced, but very sophisticated in terms of understanding strategy, tactics and methods. Our training will have to change and adapt to new ways of training—more simulation. Again technology will advance. We may be a smaller, leaner but a very different force.
Q. How do we get to be that smarter force that you're describing?
A. The generations that are coming into the Army and the officer corps are intrinsically much more adaptable to that environment than ever before. They understand the power of the technologies.
We have to get better at analytical thinking in terms of our educational processes. That's the soldier of the future, a soldier who will have to make lots of choices.
For example, one of our top priorities is education, getting the communications right between the soldier and all the way up to brigade. Once you … link it all up and you're using a little pad this big to look at massive amounts of data and information, you need a soldier who needs to think analytically and critically about what they're doing on the battlefield.Q. What are the Army's technological priorities (and don't say the network)? Everybody says that, but I guess that's true, isn't it?
A. Ten years of war taught us we weren't that sophisticated in that area, that we needed to get there and the power of technology could get us there. But only if we didn't have all these arcane acquisition processes that we had to fix in order to achieve this.
But if you ask me, I think it's in lots of areas. It's in basic science that allows us to advance in areas like medicine. The Army holds a huge number of patents in pharmaceuticals. If you go to [Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.] and look at the collaborations with the Navy in terms of Army medicine and Army science, it's pretty amazing.
One of the risks of sequestration is that we would lose many of these people. If the resources are not there, the facilities are not there, then these great doctors are going to get scooped up by the private sector. We'll lose that capacity, and who loses is the American taxpayer.
Q. As the business transformation guy, what do you think are the key things the Army has to do to get through the fiscally constrained environment?
A. We have to keep pushing something Gen. [George[ Casey really pushed hard on when he was here when he was chief of staff—this idea that we have to institute a cost-conscious culture. We have to redefine all of our business processes. We have to change the culture. I'm trying to operate in a more corporate way, though not the old, tired ‘we have to run government like a business.'
If you put aside a lot of the things we do like, in Afghanistan, we are a corporation, we employ thousands of people, and we have to pay them every month. (I should say, bi-weekly so they don't think I'm taking away a paycheck.)
You have a personnel system and a financial system that before now have never been synchronized. So if you're an auditor and you go to the financial system and say, why did you pay Sgt. Westphal here as though he was married? Where is the proof he was married? The financial system says they don't have it; it's in the personnel system. The personnel system says Sgt. Westphal comes into the service 50 years ago, I don't know if we can find it.
That's auditability, our ability to be accountable, to made decisions about everything we buy, everything we do for pay and benefits. How do I know we're not paying people more than we're supposed to? You have to synchronize systems—and we're doing that.