The New Reality
During wartime, budgets for the military and law enforcement go up and, in turn, the training and equipment that our nation’s protectors need to do their jobs well becomes more readily available. Since the beginning of the “War on Terror,” the military saw the Department of Defense’s budget nearly double from $287 billion per year to $530 billion per year.[i] At home, law enforcement has seen a similar expansion. Following September 11th, the Department of Homeland Security was formed and, through DHS, local police departments had access to grant money for training and equipment through a number of different programs. However, during peacetime or when the public loses interest in the “war,” budgets shrink. After the Korean War the defense budget shrank by 43%. After Vietnam the defense budget shrank by 33%. After the Cold War the budget shrank by 36% and, while it will be a few more years before the final cuts from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are realized, the amount of money allocated to the defense and law enforcement communities continues to decline overall.[ii]
When people without any experience in either the military or law enforcement listen to the outcry that will come from people within those communities as budget cuts are announced, the first image they often have is of the life-long bureaucrat. This is the person who only cares about the fact that because his or her budget is going down their department is going to be smaller, which means that their “status” has just been reduced. When administrators feel like they have been slighted, there is usually a lot of concern that trickles down the chain of command to the men and women who are on the ground. They realize that the bureaucrat (who doesn’t have anything personally at stake when making decisions about how much training those people should get) has also just been incentivized to cut corners and show how they are “doing more with less,” because that is how they will get ahead and be promoted in an era of shrinking budgets.
This often results in check-the-box training events where standards are lowered, class sizes are increased and training hours are reduced to the minimum amount required for a certificate. Maximizing the number of man-hours trained helps an organization to look like they are mission capable, at least in the bullet points of a PowerPoint briefing up the chain of command. For the operators and protectors on the ground, though, shrinking budgets can be terrifying because there is nothing scarier than being deemed “paper-ready” by someone far removed from the actual danger. People who work on the ground realize the very real difference between sitting in a classroom to learn a new skill and being able to actually perform those skills in a real-life situation when your life could be on the line for making a correct or incorrect assessment. Since the allocation or the size of the budget is a “third bucket problem” for protectors and is likely outside of your control, this article is about understanding the impact of budget cuts on your personal development and knowing where you should focus your time, attention and energy, so that you can truly succeed in your profession.
At the time that I am writing this, our country faces an enemy who wants to destroy the freedom that America was built on, one IED and one beheading at a time. We face criminals who have studied our legal system, understand what law enforcement officers can and can’t do, and continually adapt to grow their illegal enterprise. We face the risk of online self-radicalization and the anger of people who believe that opening fire in a public area is the only way to be seen as important and powerful. For the members of the military, the law enforcement community and security professionals, the public expects that you are capable of stopping these attacks and protecting the freedom that allows them to live their lives. Because they expect this of you, they are going to hold you accountable when a criminal succeeds. The public is going to see each successful attack as a failure of the government and the security professionals who were present at the scene. Despite shrinking budgets, these are the conditions that you have to learn to thrive within. Is it a double standard and hypocritical when the same people who want you to do more with less get mad and criticize you in the press when an attack is successful? Of course it is, but whether this is “what you signed up for” or not, this is the new reality.
What you do in response to this reality is your choice. The first option is Continue reading »