Sunday, January 30, 2011

Spring Semester 2011

This was a recent text conversation between me and my sister. She texted me to vent (something about chickens??), and me, not having anything very useful to say, texted back, "Oof, sorry. This might make you laugh, tho...I'm reading the assignment for my federal budgeting class-& enjoying it! How crazy is that!?"

Her response, "You are not well."

I acknowledge the fact that what I am studying this semester is usually viewed as dreadfully boring, complex, unsolvable and generally yucky. BUT, one week into classes, I'm diggin it. I think it's because I feel like it's going to be useful to me. Like, actually useful. Like I may actually use it. Or at least use it to help me understand more of what's going on around me.

I'm taking four classes this semester (no more five class-crap...that was a rough go, especially when it was a) my first semester back in school after 13 years, and b) two of those classes were statistics and microeconomics...blech!).  1) Federal Budgeting and 2) Finance or Public Financial Management (it's listed as both in the course listings) seem like they will overlap fairly significantly. But as much as that annoyed me last semester, I think it will be good in this case. The classes will be approaching the subject from slightly different perspectives, and both the professors bring significant real-world and academic experience to the class. And I guess the reason that I'm enjoying these two classes is that I have a very rudimentary understanding of the subject and I think, I hope, I'll get to use what I learn in them during my HQ tour.

3) Public Policy and Private Enterprise in National Security is taught by Dr. Jacques Gansler, former Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, and explores the role of private enterprise (contractors and other private sector entities) in public policy discussions, particular in this case to national security. I'm going to do my best to go into this class with an open mind, fully cognizant of the fact that my limited experience with contractors has all been bad. Not just bad, but HORRID BAD!! Hopefully the class will help be gain some perspective that not all contractors are robber barons and scoundrels. There are a bunch of military guys in this class from the Air Force, Navy and Marines. I'm the only Coastie. Hope I can hold my own and re*present*. We have three policy memos to write; we get to pick the first topic. So, dutifully, I pondered what I could write about, and sent off this happy little email to my professor this morning:

I have a few ideas for topics for the first memo, and would like some feedback on which you think might be most appropriate.

--Arctic maritime domain issues: as Arctic routes become more feasible for commercial shipping traffic during summer months, the US needs to determine what our security interests are in the region, and how we anticipate addressing those issues.

--The recent RAND Corporation study assertion that alternative fuels are not feasible for military applications: could be similar to the discussion around HD systems from our first case study, in that military R&D could have huge impacts on civilian use of the technology.

--OMB's threat to cut funding for the Coast Guard's Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC): the CG is in the very preliminary stages of OPC acquisition, but the organization does not have a strong record of acquisition proficiency as demonstrated by delays and cost overruns on the National Security Cutter and Fast Response Cutter programs.
(Harsh, I know, but I'm just paraphrasing from a Congressional Research Service report from October 2010 on Deepwater Acquisition Programs)

Any direction you can provide on relevancy to your expectations or need for narrowing the topics would be greatly appreciated.

Dr. Gansler's response:
I wish I could cut them down, but all three are very good and relevant. So I would like you to pick the one you want.
Sorry I was not much help.
Good luck! 

Well, at least I know I'm on the right track. But I really don't know which one to write about. I'll probably go with the OPC one, just because I have a strong, sturdy, really, *really* big soapbox ready to go for that one.

My last class, 4) is Information Policy and Technology. It should be very interesting, if very scary, talking about all the ways that technology is fast out-stripping the policy. The professor is Chris McGoff, DC-based consultant and author of a new book, The Primes. What I've read of it so far is spot on with what I know about change and organizational transformation (which could be put on the head of a pin, but what he says makes sense from a leadership perspective anyway).

One thing I've noticed about this set of classes is that the professors seem inclined to provide more than just the knowledge and skills. They want us to have some of the background theory. Like Chris (yes, that's what he told us to call him) using his book about organizational change for an information policy class; and reading two classic works, Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and Elting Morrison's Men, Machines and Modern Times, for the private enterprise/national security class. It took me a little bit to see the logic behind this, especially with the Kuhn and Morrison books. But I think in that case it has to do with impressing upon us the importance of an outside, capitalist perspective that entrepreneurs can bring to stodgy old bureaucracies. But I kinda hope the professors address a little more thoroughly why they're having us read seemingly random stuff for their classes.

Oh, one last thing about this semester. I only have classes two days a week, Mondays and Tuesdays. Mondays are a little long, starting at 9 am (though I am going to try making the 7 am yoga class a regular thing), and ending at 9:30 pm (with a four-hour break in the middle for lunch and a nap). But it was a little odd getting out of class at 4 pm on Tuesday, knowing I was done for the week.

Off to read a couple of chapters from Federal Budgeting Systems.


Azulao said...

Either your sister is not as smart as I thought she'd be based on what I know of her, or she was joking, because that class actually sounds kind of fascinating.

If only my students would email me with three fantastic topics and ask me which was the best, instead of choosing something stupid and then plagiarizing most of their papers. I would be a happy, happy teacher.

Would LOVE LOVE LOVE to know why the military thinks it shouldn't develop alternative fuels. Job security maybe?

Just a Girl said...

The military is pursuing alternative fuels. It's spent lots and lots of money ($300 mil is the figure I saw) trying to develop biofuels. The RAND Corporation is an independent think tank that did the analysis. The report is here: