Gates’ Love-Hate Relationship with Bureaucracy

Jason Reed/AP

AA Font size + Print

“Up close, Congress is truly ugly,” former Defense Secretary Bob Gates writes in his new memoir. By Tom Shoop

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates is making quite a splash with his new memoir, and it’s not even out yet. Commenters on the book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, have noted Gates’ highly critical assessment of President Obama, the White House national security team and members of Congress.

What has attracted less attention is the fact that the excerpts revealed thus far show that Gates had a complex relationship with institutions of government he led and the career professionals who run them on a day-to day basis.

On the one hand, Gates clearly felt that Obama was guilty of micromanaging operations and failing to respect experienced career leaders. Yesterday, Defense One Executive Editor Kevin Baron noted that in the book Gates “recounts frustrations with national security staff populated by think tank academics and Capitol Hill staffers, rather than bureaucrats trained to run large government institutions.”

The former Defense secretary insists he wasn’t the only one who found the Obama administration’s approach troubling. In an excerpt from the book published today in the Wall Street Journal, Gates writes, “The controlling nature of the Obama White House, and its determination to take credit for every good thing that happened while giving none to the career folks in the trenches who had actually done the work, offended Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton as much as it did me.”

(Related: Why It Matters that Gates Questions Obama’s Will in Afghanistan)

At the same time, though, Gates himself was at times frustrated by the challenges of running a huge organization he viewed as in some ways inefficient and wasteful. In the excerpt, he laments that in addition to taking on administration skeptics and grandstanding members of Congress, he “had to battle the bureaucratic inertia of the Pentagon.” He also writes that he “had no problem with the White House driving policy; the bureaucracies at the State and Defense Departments rarely come up with big new ideas, so almost any meaningful change must be driven by the president and his National Security Staff.”

In the excerpt, Gates also writes of “superfluous or wasteful” Defense facilities and contracts. Such rhetoric is consistent with the views of a man who sought steep cuts in overhead spending at the Pentagon in order to preserve funding for military operations.  

In the end, Gates reserves his highest praise for members of the uniformed military and their leaders, contrasting them with the current commander in chief.  “Obama was respectful of senior officers and always heard them out, but he often disagreed with them and was deeply suspicious of their actions and recommendations,…” he writes. “I think Obama considered time spent with generals and admirals an obligation.”

Clearly, Gates’ interactions with the bureaucratic institutions of government were complex, and his relationship with his boss during the last years of his tenure was rocky. But career employees and President Obama can take solace: In the book, the former Defense chief reserves his greatest vitriol for the nation’s lawmakers.

“Congress is best viewed from a distance — the farther the better — because up close, it is truly ugly,” he writes. “I saw most of Congress as uncivil, incompetent at fulfilling their basic constitutional responsibilities (such as timely appropriations), micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned and prone to put self (and re-election) before country.”

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from DefenseOne.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

    Download
  • Military Readiness: Ensuring Readiness with Analytic Insight

    To determine military readiness, decision makers in defense organizations must develop an understanding of complex inter-relationships among readiness variables. For example, how will an anticipated change in a readiness input really impact readiness at the unit level and, equally important, how will it impact readiness outside of the unit? Learn how to form a more sophisticated and accurate understanding of readiness and make decisions in a timely and cost-effective manner.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

    Download
  • Information Operations: Retaking the High Ground

    Today's threats are fluent in rapidly evolving areas of the Internet, especially social media. Learn how military organizations can secure an advantage in this developing arena.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.