[May 9, 2018] Not that long ago in what we called the old brown-boot army, there was a saying that if you couldn’t wrap it in red tape (aka bureaucracy), then it wasn’t worth two cents. The implication was that the small stuff was important and leaders paid attention to detail … well, didn’t they?
Well, boys, I have some news for you; the pettifoggers are in control and you ain’t. That’s what my Platoon Sergeant told me one afternoon when I was frustrated at ordering a heater for the Commander’s Jeep (M151A3). Winter in West Germany was approaching and the heater didn’t work but I had to fill out several forms, justify it to the senior mechanic, and then write a memo (in DA format) to defend the purchase. The heater cost $12.
Maybe the U.S. Army brass knew something I didn’t. Or maybe, they wanted us not to do anything that required work on their part. So much for an efficient army. I’m glad we weren’t at war at the time. This was 1974 and on the heels of the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, President Nixon resigning from office, and a big drawdown in military forces.
I was new to the military and my lack of knowledge gave power to those who would quibble over minor things; like the heater I wanted for that jeep. These folks may have meant well (they only following army regulations) but they were standing in my way of doing something that was so obviously the right thing, that only an idiot would have resisted. But they did.
What I didn’t know was that the army had unwritten rules too. Harry E. Teasley, Jr. came up with what he calls the Seven Rules of Bureaucracy. According to Mr. Teasley, Rule #1 is “Maintain the problem at all costs! The problem is the basis of power, perks, privileges, and [job] security.” I had no idea what I was getting into. But it was those little pettifoggers that were getting my goat and there was nothing I could do about it as a lowly army Private.
Later in my career as a senior commissioned officer, I was one of several leaders who proposed a reduction in this dysfunction of excessive bureaucracy. Thanks to many others, it helped and the problem was made better (although not solved).
I never got the heater for my Commander’s jeep but I did learn how to improvise. I took a heater from a large 5-ton truck (that was deadlined) and rigged it to work in the jeep. The pettifoggers thought they had me but I got the last word in.