By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 25, 2007; A09
A $38 million U.S. effort to create a computerized accounting system for the Iraqi government has been suspended because the Ministry of Finance there has continued to use a paper system, according to the latest report of Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.
"Nobody noticed" when the computerized Iraq Financial Management Information System was inoperable for a month, and no one relies on it to produce reports, Bowen said in a report released by his office yesterday.
Bowen's statement follows a disclosure earlier this month by the Government Accountability Office that $8 million was spent to train about 500 Iraqi government employees in various ministries to use the computerized system, but the Finance Ministry refused to drop its paper spreadsheets.
Installation of the new accounting system was halted last May when a British contractor and his security team were kidnapped from the Ministry of Finance office, located outside the protected Green Zone where many international officials live and work.
Bowen reported that despite the substantial U.S. investment in the system, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad "does not have a firm plan or strategy for addressing the next steps in the development of the system."
The experience is not unique, according to the GAO. Despite U.S. spending of $300 million the past two years to improve the capacity of Iraq's ministries -- and with $255 million more sought for next year -- a recent GAO report said progress has been stalled not only by poor security but also by pervasive corruption, a shortage of competent personnel, and sectarian and political control of appointments.
Almost half of all Iraqi government employees fail to turn up for work each day, and many who do put in only two to three hours daily "for security reasons," according to the report. It also notes that a U.S. Embassy assessment found that one-third of civilian ministries surveyed had problems with "ghost employees" -- people on the payroll who never come to work.
Lack of security has also prompted many Iraqi professionals and educated bureaucrats to flee the country for Syria and Jordan. A November 2006 United Nations report estimated that 40 percent of Iraqi professionals had left the country since 2003.
"Iraqi ministries have significant shortages of competent personnel with the skills necessary to formulate budgets, procure goods and services, and perform other vital ministry tasks," the GAO found. A September 2006 U.S. assessment concluded that "the majority of staff at all but one of the ministries surveyed were inadequately trained for their positions and a quarter of them relied heavily on foreign support."
The problem, said GAO Director of International Affairs and Trade Joseph A. Christoff, is partly that "Iraqi words for 'allocation,' 'commitment' and 'expenditure' don't mean the money is actually spent." There is no way to track the "effectiveness of what is spent," he said.
Now back to my blog entry title- culture, change management and influence without authority:
While I was a bit grumpy in yesterday's post, which suggest changes are failing because many of us just don't care any more out here, there are many people making much honest and diligent effort to bring about positive changes.
Unfortunately, most of us are completely ignorant of the culture here, the basic principles associated with successful organizational change management, and the military as a whole has never cut its teeth on influencing outside of a strictly hierarchical authoritarian organizational structure. So it is no wonder we keep throwing money at problems and then don't see the results we would like to see. We set up programs and interventions counter to the culture, don't create or identify "the burning platform", don't get "buy in", don't find the right metrics to monitor progress, and so on.
I work quite a bit with National Police Training Teams, groups of 12 or so Army folks who serve as advisors to Iraqi National Police. Their challenges are a microcosm of the difficulties I note above. Their motivation varies across the teams- some fully committed, some less so, and some hate everything about the experience. That is not a good recipe for successful change in itself. Throw in the fact that for most of them, this culture is far different than anything they've ever experienced. And while I believe the Army works hard and is well-intentioned with their cultural training of these training teams at Fort Riley, the 2-3 months of cultural training embedded with all of the other train up we did there is not nearly adequate to help us "get in the heads" of the folks we're supposed to be helping.
We just don't know these folks well, and it takes quite a while to build that relationship once we get here- patience, and a whole lot of effort to understand someone quite different from yourself- not a strong point of most of the military folks I've worked with. We actually work to make everyone the same in our military culture, calling the process "soldierization."
But here, successful change management requires that we quit trying to make others like us, but help them be successful within their framework and culture. We have to do that without command authority, which is the lingua franca of the military world. So we have to learn a new language- influence, not command, is the way the National Police Training Teams have to work. So it is no wonder when I see the frustration among my brothers in arms. Their culture and training is entirely focused on command approaches, and they are sent out here and have to work in an entirely different manner. Once again, 2-3 months of training at Ft. Riley is not going to override their entire careers in the military.
It is the same question I addressed with a reporter in one interview- he was asking about how much of a change this 30 day course that I supervise achieves among the National Police. I suggested that it would be presumptuous to believe that 80 years (or hundreds of years, if you take a Lawrence of Arabia perspective) of culture and experience can be reprogrammed in the time available in a 30 day training program. Further, for many of the National Police, this is just one of many training programs they have gone through- many of them are not dazzled by the "new and improved" way of doing things, and in fact they state they will train in the "American" or western way, and then once we leave them alone, they can go back to their Arabic approaches which they remain convinced are more effective. And frankly, in their circumstances and culture, they are right in some ways.