Air Force Secretary’s wrong answer on nuke-force cheating scandal

On the QT…

Leadership 101.  Some well-intentioned comments are just the wrong answer.  The video clip from this one (video below at LU link) has been driving me nuts today.  We can hope there’s someone in the chain of command who’s got the right perspective on the problem (we can hope, to start with, that what we’re being told about the problem is accurate and truthful).  But it isn’t Secretary Deborah Lee James.

The reported problem is that officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base – officers who manage America’s nuclear-armed Minuteman III ICBMs – have been implicated in both a major cheating scandal and a drug scandal that includes officers at a number of other Air Force bases.  At latest count, 92 officers were involved in the cheating, or about half of those serving at Malmstrom (in Montana near Great Falls).  What form did the cheating take?  Texting answers to each other on a monthly proficiency test, on which the officers are required to score well to keep their assignments and be positioned for promotion.

Now, there’s room for the possibility that the monthly test is unreasonable in terms of its content: elements tested, and so forth.  It’s possible that the commanders involved need to reconsider the uses they make of the test. But here is the complaint Secretary James seems to be passing on directly from the mouths of disgruntled junior officers:

“These tests have taken on, in their eyes, such high importance, that they feel that anything less than 100 could well put their entire career in jeopardy” even though they only need a score of 90 to pass, said James, who only recently took over as secretary. “They have come to believe that these tests are make-it-or-break-it.”

The launch officers didn’t cheat to pass the test, “they cheated because they felt driven to get 100 percent,” she said.

Well, boo-frickin-hoo.  Promotion in the U.S. Air Force’s vaunted nuclear-missile force is a zero-defects proposition?  Horrors!

Look, there’s a way to present an executive leadership view on a problem like this.  And it isn’t to repeat verbatim the complaint of the cheater.  As a matter of fact, the American people have every right to expect a zero-defects mentality in the administration of their nuclear missile force.

See the rest On the QT

2 thoughts on “Air Force Secretary’s wrong answer on nuke-force cheating scandal”

  1. Back the truck up.

    A drug scandal of course is of the gravest concern.

    And we can agree that repeating verbatim the complaint of the cheaters may indicate incompetence on Secretary James’ part. But…

    Can anyone consistently score a 100 on every test?

    Is nothing less than perfection even achievable, much less reasonable?

    It’s true that cheating reveals a serious character flaw. It’s also true that, if true, placing human beings in an untenable position is a formula for law breaking.

  2. GB asks very important questions.

    We run into this all of the time out in the dealing with such things world. Tests have become insanely difficult, obtuse, and often designed to fail the test taker at every opportunity. Difficulty and rigor are not the same thing.

    Any test that demands a 90% pass rate is not a test it’s a direct assault that quite frankly no human being is going to meet if the test is exceedingly difficult and functionally obtuse.

    Professional level tests should be for the purposes of identifying training opportunities, and procedural difficulties. I have yet in 30 years of work ever had a situation where a test proved or disproved my ability to solve a problem. All it proved is that for a short period of time I could memorize some esoteric fact stream, and regurgitate what someone else thinks is relevant at the time of the test.

    Instead of blind bureaucratic absolutism, what needs to be done in those scenarios is an interactive situational functional test where the officer actually performs the function required in the test… open book, normal time, and all. Oddly as tough as my old friends from SAC days say the ORI tests were, they were live, you DID the job, with all of your tools, manuals, and instructions… right there… There were more than a few old officers that told me, memorizing is a poor way to conduct a life and death situation. Checklists and procedures are always your primary tools, not your memory.

    When 92 college educated highly trained people cheat on a series of tests, yes, there is an integrity problem going on, but that many people do not feel compelled to game a fair system. Something is seriously wrong in the military. It’s specifically seriously wrong in the Air Force, which has totally lost its military bearing, is voluntarily surrendering mission capability, and spending more time worrying about quotas and achievements for politically correct causes, than fighting this nation’s wars, and defending its three dimensional borders.


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