Truth, Secrecy, and Politics


     When I was a government contractor in Washington, I attended a course on the acquisition process.  The class was run by another contractor who had years of experience navigating the labyrinth of the government procurement process, so I listened attentively, expecting to learn something new.  I did, in fact, learn many new things, but what struck me most was the unfortunate, age old truth of much of our political and budgetary system.  I was actually quite floored when the instructor, in speaking of the budget justification process, plainly stated, in relation to program cost projections, that Congress doesn't want to know the truth.  The context of the statement was in relation to program cost and schedule projections, which items the agency I was supporting was getting fairly racked over the coals for due to missing them repeatedly.  The fact was, the instructor went on, if the truth were known, congressmen would have a difficult time justifying their approval of the program.  I had experienced a similar situation in the military in terms of a program the costs of which were low-balled in hopes of getting the weapon system fielded, after which point, it was reasoned, it would have to be supported, the logistical considerations for its support having been omitted from cost projections, or so the scuttlebutt went.


     I use to believe the line that there was a greater good that, being the junior officer or young and inexperienced man that I was, I was simply not aware of or read into.  I am now 49 years old and have been in or around this business for most of my adult life, and I am convinced that this is simply not the case.  In another instance, I was supporting a program the implementation of which had been delayed for some time.  When I found a technical problem which had been discovered years prior and never addressed, I recommended the program be canceled due to the now known true costs and schedule of the resolution.  I actually had other support contractors tell me not to bring up the problem due to the very real possibility of the program being cancelled were it known.  This is our government procurement process.


     I am now supporting military training at the joint staff, combatant command level.  Even though I have a clearance, and even though most of the information I try to access in getting prepared for observing exercises and trying to give my best objective feedback to the training audience is at a classification level I am cleared for, I have found on multiple occasions that I have had to peel back the onion to its very core to get at ground truth in order to give that feedback.  As I represent the commanders in attempting to assist the training audiences in achieving their training objectives, it's not an issue of need to know but rather an issue of willingness to share.  On several occasions, I have been told the information I was seeking was above my clearance but, on researching, found this not to be the case.  I have also been told that the information is politically sensitive.  As I said, I am 49 years old.  I understand political sensitivities.  I have also lived long enough to see that many of the issues so couched are rather economically or personally sensitive to a few rather than being so in terms of the commonweal. 


     We live in a tumultuous time.  Many things are in a process of rapid change.  In such times, it is even more important to thoughtfully consider the changes occurring or being consciously enacted yet, because the changes are so radical and rapid and the consequences of getting it wrong are great, we seem to cling ever more tightly to secrecy and distrust, even among those we have trusted our very lives to in the past.  I suppose it is just human nature to assume that we who deal with certain issues as a part of our profession are the only ones who really understand them and can appreciate the nuances, yet I still believe, regardless of the naysayers, that common folk with common sense and armed with the truth can easily understand the issues as well as we.  The issues, as with so many others, are rather political and personal. 


     I am frankly tired of having to dig for the truth I am entitled to as a citizen and supposedly privileged to by profession.  I would rather give up the privilege to access in order to regain the right to reveal when reality is hidden by hubris and obfuscated by pride or position.  This is not to say that I believe the government should have no secrets.  We still live in a dangerous world with people that wish to do us harm, but our protection is best achieved when we, together, as a people, decide the proper course to take on issues of great significance to us all.