Sunday, February 13, 2011

The CORE PRIME Applied - Take 1

I'm scheduled to give a brief presentation in my Information Policy & Technology class on Monday about my personal clarification of how the differences in cultures between the aviation and surface cultures will interact with the whole modernization/CG-LIMS implementation. I'm thinking this will utilize a very rudimentary picture of modernization for two reasons: first, my audience is my classmates, who have limited, if any, background in Coast Guard missions, acronyms, structure, etc.; second, modernization entails *a lot* of different functions, people and processes...i.e, I'm not sure I understand it entirely. Best to keep it basic to what I do understand.

One caveat to make myself feel better: this process is to help me understand the big picture. I'm pretty sure that people *way* smarter than me have already thought this stuff through and incorporated their concerns into the process development. I'm sharing it here because writing this blog helps me to keep a balanced perspective...not overeating at the Piss-in-Your-Cheerios Bar & Grill, or making too many purchases in the Rose-Colored Glasses Store.

The CORE PRIME has five elements: AS IS, TO BE, STAKE, STRATEGY, ENVIRONMENT. Chris told me to work through each one separately.

AS IS: This one is really hard, sort of because it's changing already, with the implementation of some of the modernization projects (stand up of Surface Forces Logistic Command (SFLC) being the most relevant, I think), but also because it's hard to really pin down what makes our current cutter culture what it is. And the more I've thought about it, I've come to the realization that the small boat and aviation communities have more in common than first glance would suggest (which is probably why small boat stations were modernized first...our leadership is pretty smart that way).

Boat crews and air crews are duty crews, assigned to the same unit, but not necessarily the same four, five or six people that always go out together. They don't always drive/fly the same boat/airframe; they "check out" whichever asset they're supposed to use for that day, and then turn it back into the unit inventory when they get done with the mission.The coxswain or mission commander is not typically the unit commanding officer/officer in charge. According to the CG Air Ops manual, the "[Pilot in Command] is responsible for the safe, orderly, efficient and effective performance of the aircraft and aircrew and passengers during the entire mission... " And the coxswain, from CG Regulations, "shall be responsible...for the safety and conduct of the passengers and crew; safe operation and navigation of the boat assigned; and the completion of the sortie or mission(s) assigned or undertaken pursuant to Coast Guard policy and regulations." Emphasis is mine.

Cutters are not that way. From CG Regs again, "the responsibility of the commanding officer [in general, not specific to cutters] for that command is absolute..." There's nothing about limiting the responsibility just for a particular mission, or only for safe execution of the mission; it is *all the time* and for *everything.* Sure, there's the mission execution part, but there's also the personnel and administrative stuff, the maintenance and repairs, public affairs, office upkeep (including paint locker you don't get ferns growing out of it, you know), port call and mission planning, stores and parts and logistics and spend-downs get the idea. I think this translates into a different level of intimacy (if that's the right word) that the CO of a cutter has, than the CO/OIC of an air station/small boat station. The CO of a cutter is there every time the cutter gets underway; if something breaks they're likely to know it. The CO/OIC has to rely more heavily on hir pilots/coxswains to report problems.

Also with cutters, it's always the same crew of 10, 20, 60 or 160 people that get underway on the same platform each and every time (well, with exceptions for the constant juggling that goes along with medical appointments, work-life issues, C-schools, etc.). I think this is one of the *greatest* strengths of the cutter community and is a large part of what being underway is all about...the camaraderie with your shipmates and the ownership of your ship. Ask anyone on MAUI, or who has been on's the best of the six ships in Bahrain...because it's *our* ship. There's a cycle: ownership breeds pride breeds ownership get the idea.

But ownership and pride can also lend themselves darkly to egotism and a superiority complex. "We get the MISSION done on *my* ship; we overcome casualties ourselves, no need to involve anyone else..." as the ship gets underway with a dozen pieces of broken equipment and less than 60 percent of preventative maintenance done. It's not so much an ostrich sticking its head in the sand, as, in a worst case scenario, a body-builder getting strung out on 'roids, but still looking buff...useful in the short-term, but devastating in the long run. I think it's that blindness caused by either not feeling like your ship needs help, or thinking that it somehow reflects badly on the ship and command to have stuff break. Maybe it was that way back in the day, that COs were judged inversely to how many CASREPs they had out (more CASREPS = bad captain), but I think those times are changing, thank goodness. The vestiges of it still linger though.

Just as an aside: I wonder if this is the main difference between the surface and aviation cultures. Aviators definitely have their own version of egotism, but I think it resides more internally to them as individuals, rather than being wrapped up in their ship, like it is for cuttermen. As the saying goes, "there are more helicopters in the ocean, than boats in the sky." Maybe aviators realize that the risks that they face flying over the ocean, which their aircraft really don't "land" on very well, obviate the need for sentimentality for their equipment.

TO BE: From the Acquisition Directorate's website, CG-LIMS is supposed to "to improve lifecycle management and standardize practices," " improve the transparency and accountability of logistics functions throughout the Coast Guard. CG-LIMS will provide a system-wide management capability for configuration, maintenance, supply chain and technical data." It's a small piece of the larger modernization effort. It will consolidate a lot of disparate programs that are currently in use: AOPS/TMT, CMPLUS,  ALMIS, daily boat checks and boat mission records. At least that's what the current system (currently being implemented at small boat stations) does, according to this video on Logistics Transformation.

In my own words, the IT portion of logistics transformation is to provide a single access point for maintaining real-time operational and maintenance requirements and records for the entire chain of command. It will provide operational commanders visibility of asset status and estimated times for repair for vessels that are non-operational. Transparency, transparency, transparency. Everybody with the same information at the same time.

My vision of the TO BE also includes a structure that plays to the strengths of the cutter community: ownership and the dedication and team-effect of cutter crews...positive and negative accountability. We all know what the enforcement arm of accountability looks like (relief for cause, substandard OERs, weak endorsements), but there also needs to be positive reinforcement for proactively pursuing an aggressive maintenance program. I tried to put my crew in for a Meritorious Unit Commendation (MUC) for the six and a half months surrounding KISKA's drydock (since Team Awards now require more than one OPFAC, a MUC seemed the most appropriate). I mean, more than six months of sustained 12 to 15 hour days, usually six days a week, but sometimes seven, in crappy, hot, dusty, smelly conditions, standing more than 2500 hours of fire watch, through numerous extensions of the contract, away from homeport, and then going immediately into a two-week generator change out, where they worked through the weekend to get it done in ten days. Oh, and then smoking!! a Ready For Operations (RFO) evaluation less than six weeks later. Is that really just "doing their job?" The MUC got turned down by the first level review. I'm not whining (too much), just noting what I see as concrete evidence of a cultural obstacle.

What's at STAKE? Push/pull of head, heart and wallet.This one is actually pretty easy for me. Analytically (head), we can not keep doing all of our required missions with our current system and the aging assets we're using (push); modernization will improve the information available for risk-based analysis of mission priorities (pull). Emotionally (heart), we're unnecessarily beating the shit out of our people, making them meet the unrestrained requirements of both operations and maintenance without some good way of balancing the two needs (push); improved analysis of mission priorities will lift some of the weight of tough choices (maintenance v. operations) from the shoulders of overworked people so that they can, I don't know, sleep, spend time with families, pursue educational goals, improve their proficiencies, improve their health...pick one (pull). And financially (wallet), aging assets cost more and more to maintain and operate (push), so that we must be more efficient with allocating scarce budgetary resources to prolong service life (pull).

ENVIRONMENT: There are a couple of external issues that are prompting this discussion within the Coast Guard. First, plain and simple, is the age of our fleet. WHECs (378 foot ships) and 210s (210 foot ships) have been around for more than 40 years; the WPB 110s have been around for 20+ years, when they were designed for a 20 year service life. Let's not talk about the river/construction tender fleet, or the icebreakers. For goodness sakes, even some of the earliest 87 foot patrol boats are closing in on 13 years old.

And, AND our mission set has expanded significantly since 2001. Homeland security missions take a *lot* of time and resources. We're doing way more now than we were ten years ago, with equipment that is now ten years further along.

Second is the federal requirement to improve our accounting system. The Coast Guard suffered through a couple of bad years with financial audits that required some restructuring of how we tracked parts and equipment. I don't know too much about the details of this whole part of the story, so I won't spend much time on it, but we were unable to account for a lot of valuable parts, so there was some reorganization that had to take place to pacify federal bean counters.

STRATEGY: This is the part it's all about, right? I don't have any answers. I still think we're on the right track with modernization...That combined with ADM Papp's commitment to "Steady the Service," I think will move us along tremendously towards our TO BE.

My only recommendation goes back to that part of my own TO BE vision, about positive reinforcement. Is it appropriate to recognize an operational unit's maintenance savvy? Without the mission, there's no need for maintenance; but without maintenance, there's no mission that can be completed. The mission/operations will always take precedence, but I do believe there must be some institutional parity for the hard work that is being done by cutter crews to maintain old ships beyond the current line of "that's your job." I'm a little passionate about this :)

I think that's all for the first stab at this. It was harder than I thought it was going to be. The convoluted nature of the subject definitely contributed to that, but I think the PRIMES process is also supposed to be a collaborative's meant to be a dialogue, not one person's pea-brainstorm.


Dan Taylor said...

I read this post with great interest as the current CG-LIMS Project Manager and the (many years ago) ALMIS Project Manager back when it was used only in aviation.

We're just completing a transparent, collaborative re-assessment of the acquisition strategy. One of the things we did may provide some great, primary source input you can use: we conducted a survey on ALMIS implementation that was answered by over 500 people. You'll see some real insight into cultural in the results.

There is a link to the results from this blog post on the CG-LIMS project blog. If you have Intelink-U access, you'll find it here: Weekly we dump that blog to WordPress. You'll find the same post here:

Many of us in the trenches of the acquisition will be interested in the work you're doing for your class. I appreciate your willingness to share what you're thinking!

We've done our strategic assessment a openly as possible, using a publicly accessible wiki to communicate within the Coast Guard, with industry, and with academia. We're going to be focused over the next two days on completing a final report, brief, and decision memo.

In the meantime, the site is at Poke around and you may find something you can use. There is a ton of background on the references page (link in the text of main page).

You also might find it interesting to hop into the "way back" machine and see how ALMIS unfolded through the lens of the periodic "ALMIS-grams" that I shared. Some of those posts speak to the change management challenges we faced within aviation. We hosted them internally, and the site went away when ALMIS was delivered, but I re-hosted them several years later here: Scroll past the final entry and you'll see a link to "Read all ALMIS grams."

You can bet I'll watch your blog with interest. If there's anything we can do to help your project, let me know. Acquisition projects, like PRIMES, work best as dialogue. :-)

Just a Girl said...


Thanks very much for the links. I took a brief look at them and will definitely dig deeper next week. I knew there was a ton of great information out there on the project, but didn't know where to find it (though I did find the wiki and much of it seemed exceedingly technical that I skimmed a little too lightly).

Unfortunately I don't have access to Intelink-U or cgportal right now. But I'll keep a close eye on the blog to see what results are posted.

Anonymous said...

figured this was the best place to reach you since you are in college right now and wasnt sure if you had access to your cg email. Figured i would see what was going on, and give you some updates on the mighty Kiska. My personal email is
hope to here from you,
michael mckinstry