GWU Issues Management

A blog established for the George Washington University School of Political Management's Issues Management course.

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A middle aged white guy, who likes to think, talk and, too infrequently, write about politics, religion and gadgets.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Walter Reed

Sorry for the delayed post, I'm on travel.

Here's a simple one. Compare and contrast two approaches the issue of the poor conditions at Walter Reed Army Hospital. One reaction is by Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, chief of the Army Medical Command. The other by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Who managed the issue better and why.


Blogger Susan said...

Defense Secretary Robert Gates did a much better job of handling this issue than did Gen. Kiley. First and foremost, he admitted that there was a problem, but more importantly that they were taking concrete steps to address this. Gen. Kiley's problem was that he came across as either in denial of the problem or at the very least he appeared very unsympathetic about it.
First Kiley says that it wasn't "an accurate representation" and that it was one-sided, but never does he attempted to give the other side. Later he says that it's not "the accuracy I question, it's the characterization" which completely contradicts earlier statements where he does state that he questions the accuracy. He also appears very cavalier about the whole situation stating that "this is not a horrific, catastrophic failure at Walter Reed." While that may in fact be the truth, at this point, I think that most are just looking to hear that the troops deserve better and that steps are being taken to rectify the situation.

This is where Gates does a good job. He admits that there is a problem, that they are taking steps to rectify and have already identified certain activities which can be taken to lessen the problems. He also notes that the problems were confined to only one part of Walter Reed...making it clear that this is not a huge problem relating to all medical hospitals or even the whole of Walter Reed, but rather one program.

7:47 AM  
Blogger Brian C. said...

I fully agree that those who serve the country and put themselves in danger should receive the best treatment and medical attention possible. Obviously, that is not always happening at our veteran’s medical facilities, as these articles address. I think with any government agency, especially one that is so over its head as VA medical facilities, there is going to be problems. I agree that the number one focus is helping the vast number of patients, which makes it hard to paint and modernize facilities; especially one that is slated to close due to BRAC! Bottom line this is a political issue that would get good press. I especially enjoy how soldiers are frustrated with the bureaucracy at the facility, and the DOD response is to send a bureaucratic parade of officials to “investigate.”

I think Gates response from an issues standpoint is better, but fair at best. Yes he accepts responsibility, but the actions he described to “fix” the problems are not very convincing. As for Walter Reed’s response, they made excuses and never really described how they would improve things moving forward.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Dulce said...

The army's surgeon general, Kiley, was very rude with the press, he didn't tackle the problem and he always showed a defensive response. In contrast, the secretary of Defense handled the situation much better, he provided immediate solutions and he went beyond the problem opening the investigation scope to the National Naval Medical Center.
I was very surprised because he was grateful to reporters for bringing the issue to his attention... I've never seen a mexican politician doing this! Additionally, the secretary created an independent review panel, but I'm skeptical about it ... a measurement like this really works?

12:11 PM  
Blogger Danny said...

Gates did come across better than Kiley. He took a more proactive position, promising to rectify the problem and even outlined his plan for doing so. I'm not so sure that Gates' plan to solve the problem of a slow and inefficient bureaucracy with more bureaucracy will actually accomplish much, but that's the kind of solution that the media and politicians like. I think that’s why Gates was able to put together a better response; he knows how to give the media and politicians what they want to hear. He didn’t waste his time defending the facility, the army, or the DoD. Lt. Gen. Kiley on the other hand, took the wrong course for dealing with the media. He tried to defend the facility by calling into question the Washington Post’s characterization. I agree that the conditions were unsatisfactory, especially for a military hospital. But reading other articles on this issue in the Post one would have thought that the conditions in building 18 were such that the wounded soldiers were being beaten, starved, and forced to watch reruns of the View with their eyes taped open. Kiley acknowledged that the conditions were poor, and that improvements were being made, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy the media. Kiley explained that the poor conditions were isolated to a few rooms and tried to call the Post on over-exaggerating the problem. The Post responded by mockingly calling the improvements whitewash. (This was in a different article, not the ones posted on the blog.) They essentially called the repairs ridiculous and unsatisfactory and claimed that the army should do a complete top to bottom renovation of the facility. Kiley would have been better off by not challenging the misrepresentations, but by taking a similar approach to Gates, promising commissions and resources to deal with bureaucratic problems and immediate and vast renovations to deal with the facilities. The bottom line is Gates has been trained to deal with these issues with the media. Kiley has not, as he’s been too busy defending the rights of the media to freely print stories, including those with unfair characterizations.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Elan said...

I’m afraid that I have to disagree with the comments that have been posted thus far. Certainly, Mr. Gates took a more proactive approach to the solution, essentially saying “Thank you for bringing this to my attention, I’m going to go deal with it.” On the other hand, General Kiley’s response was more to the effect of “Thank you for bringing this to my attention, I’ll go check it out.”

Sure, if there really is a super-awful, absolutely-atrocious problem, Mr. Gates’s response will probably solve it more quickly. But it will also draw more attention to the problem by feeding the story. General Kiley’s attempt to subdue the complaint, while perhaps not the most proactive, would likely cause the situation to settle more quickly. His response to the press was not “There’s no problem,” but “Let me look into the situation, and get back to you.”

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not exactly one to place all the trust in the world in the military or government officials, so on a personal level, I’m happier with Defense Secretary Gates’s response and promise to make things better immediately. But from the perspective of the military and the medical command, it seems like Kiley’s response was a bit more polished. I’m not saying that General Kiley’s response is particularly strong – I just thought it was more appropriate to the situation than Gates’s.

2:30 PM  
Blogger ChrisG. said...

Based on the two WashPost articles, looks to me that Gates got the better coverage. The tone of that article was much more different than the one with Kiley. They quote Kiley as “I want to reset the thinking…” which was a wrong thing to say. What else do you want us to turn a blind eye to? Kiley also laments the characterization of the Post’s stories which is like blaming the messenger for delivering unwanted news. Although I do find that the media here is trying to puff themselves up as overly innocent. The first line of the Kiley article was quick to stick it to him. I think other’s have pointed it out already, but the Gates piece showed he was trying to smooth the situation over. Given that it was one day later, looks to me that they went to great lengths to placate the media’s coverage, even though it looks like the Democrats in Congress have found a new toy to have hearing over. In the end, nothing says managing an issue like getting a review group together and writing a report.

5:44 PM  
Blogger Brooke said...

Gates received the best press coverage on the issue, as well as did a better job managing the issue. By coming forward and accepting responsibility sends an important message. However, this does not take away the fact that the situation at the Walter Reed Army Hospital has occurred, and more importantly should not have ever occurred. I felt Kiley was very arrogant about the whole matter. Our troops deserve excellent service. It's not the time to get in to attack mode and state that Walter Reed is not a horrible catastrophe zone. The best way to handle this is to say we're taking the correct actions necessary to ensure that this never happens again and that our troops receive appropriate and corrective care.

9:16 AM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

I am going to differ from the concensus here... I was pleased that neither Gates nor Kiley denied that there were problems. However, I felt that Gates came off as all smoke and mirrors. Kiley led the press through the facilities and answered their questions honestly. He insisted that just because the facilities weren't wonderful, that the care the soldiers received wasn't poor. He promised improvements would be made and showed how some were already taking place. Gates on the other hand agreed that there were problems, but reacted as if the military was completely unaware of the issue before the Washington Post pointed it out. He blamed all the "red tape" and bureaucracy that contributed to the conditions. However, he made many promises of committee investigations and such, but these solutions are just as bureaucratic as the problems. I think Gates got a better reception because he is a higher profile figure with grander promises.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Christopher said...

I thought that Secretary Gates handled the situation very well, better than General Kiley. Kiley seemed to be in a position of opposition to the media, whereas Gates appears to have wanted to discuss the situation with the press, to ensure the best result for the government.

Gates did well by acknowledging that the problems reported in the Washington Post did exist and steps were being done to address them. With a Senate hearing coming soon, denying the problems, like Kiley did, was not going to help the situation. Setting up a commission to review the military's medical facilities is another good step, as it will give greater credibility to the steps that are taken to improve the care our soldiers receive.

Finally, it was good of Gates to thank reporters for bringing the problem to everyone's attention, while at the same time stating that they should have caught it themselves. His conciliatory approach to this serious problem was the right way to handle it, and Secretary Gates appears to have the right strategy to fix the problems at Walter Reed.

11:09 AM  
Blogger rach a said...

I'm going to go with Gates on this one. As the most senior person in charge on a national level, his response was:

-actionable (establishing the free-to-access panel)
-and succeeds in bringing credibility to his analysis of the Size and Scope of the problem (since it was limited to building 18-a former whorehouse Motel 6, off the record)

Kiley's response comes off as:
-defensive and backtracking actions
-the article mentions the new paint and patched up holes after the media attention, while previously there was black mold and filth, so it did not get a favorable outlook from the mass media.

Kiley would have done well to limit his "well this problem was blown out of proportion" with a more amicable statement, which is more truthful, saying instead, "Sec Gates and myself agree that while the problem is not widespread at Walter Reed, it deserves immediate attention, and we are working together to review the housing step-by-step"

11:59 AM  
Blogger Brandt said...

Secretary Gates did a much better job. By taking responsibility he made it a non-issue; there was nothing left for anyone to fight with Gates about so it was over. While Kiley disputed the article so the reporters could then attempt to disprove him or find error in his statements making another negative news story for the Army. The one thing I did like that Kiley did was when he showed that they were improving the facilities. This also helps to get rid of the negative press.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

I have to agree with my those classmates of mine that said Robert Gates handled the situation better. The one thing that Gates has prided himself on since taking over is that he is responsive to criticism and is humble enough to admit when he thinks a mistake has been made. This is why his responses to the questions about Walter Reed Medical Center seem to be more compassionate and are probably received better by the public at large.

What struck me the most about Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley’s response was his dismissal of the distressing conditions as not being at all "emblematic of a process of Walter Reed that has abandoned soldiers and their families.” This hits me as a combative position to take about an issue that is emotionally charged. Had he simply refrained from being so defensive in his responses, I think Kiley’s key points about the conditions at Walter Reed could have been better received. Personally I found his points to be valid but the way he conveyed it put me off. IN the end, I think Gates did a better, more diplomatic and compassionate job of dealing with this issue.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Melinda R said...

Once something is out in the press, especially the Washington Post, people are immediately going to trust the article because it is coming from a reputable source. Gen. Kiley pointed fingers back at the Post, instead addressing the true issue. It seemed a little like an 8 year old saying, "I know you are, but what am I?" Gates did a much better job, as he admitted to there being a problem and actively committed to finding an adequate solution. He didn't run and hide from something that was brought to light, however unfavorable that made him. Because of this stance, he is now seen as much more trustworthy and competent than his counterpart.

1:57 PM  
Blogger lindsay a said...

Defense Secretary Robert Gates seems to have handled the press so much better than Kiley. He seemed more friendly, and more willing to accessible to the press. However, Gates is quoted thanking the press for bringing it to everyones attention and takes the blame for not having been first to see the problem. The question there is: why didn't they know, or did they not care? Kiley, while might not have handled the press all that great, did handle the situation better. He thanks the press for the story, and did not deny any of the claims, but brought everyone's attention to the fact that despite the bad conditions, everyone was still given the best of care. That response helps take focus away from the problems and puts them back on the people. I question, though, how can someone recieve quality care if there is the potential to get sicker because of the place you are being treated.

1:59 PM  
Blogger John said...

I think that Gates did a better job of handling the situation, at least for the initial stage that we are in now. The General did not clearly communicate his position from the get-go; "I'm not sure it was an accurate representation..." Gates has taken the heat off of his office FOR NOW and outsourced the investigation. He praised the press, thanking them for bringing this to his attention, a tactic that could successfully discourage more negative articles (again, for now...) The General was immediately defensive, and though he may be attempting to make the point that building 18 was an exception, he did not do clearly.

2:04 PM  
Blogger Bethany said...

Gates handled the question much better. Kiley basically said that the problem was either untrue, exaggerated, or just spun in a way he didn't like ("the characterization"). Nowhere did he explain those comments or give his version of reality. He sounded defensive and evasive.

On the other hand, Gates was clear about the problem and how it would be resolved. He emphasized the military's commitment to ensuring good conditions for their wounded soldiers and ALMOST made me believe that the Walter Reed situation was an anomaly that would be fixed immediately.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Justin P said...

Gates did a vastly superior job. One notable difference is that Gates mentioned actions taken in response to the poor conditions instead of merely attempting to minimize the extent of the problem. This alone sets him apart from Kiley, whose comments could be summarized in the single line, “It’s not as bad as it sounds.”

Kiley’s choice of words is also remarkably poor. In one instance he attempts to delineate between the “accuracy” and “the characterization” of the facts in the Post stories. This smacks of spin and is likely to leave any reader with the impression that Kiley is doing nothing more than damage control.

Worse yet, Kiley makes the mistake of attempting to trivialize the situation when he sarcastically comments that Building 18 “(is) not the Ritz-Carlton at Pentagon City…”
This makes Kiley appear insincere and, worse yet, I believe it conveys a sense of callousness that can only contribute to the argument advanced by some other journalists that the military does not take proper care of veterans and wounded active-duty servicemen and women.

3:01 PM  
Blogger Will said...

Sec. Gates performed much better in handling the job than Gen. Kiley. While this may be due to his position - much futher from the issue than Kiley - Gate did what was expected of the Defense Secretary. He appointed an independent review panel, discussed potential disipline of military leaders, met with President Bush, and removed soldiers most directly involved in the problems. Kiley made excuses and statements such as: "While we have some issues here, this is not a horrific, catastrophic failure at Walter Reed."

Additionally, Gates expressed his thanks to the media for bring the issue to the forefront. Not only did Kiley not thank the media, he questioned the WaPo's "characterization" of Walter Reed's problems.

3:04 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

Kiley made a major error by being defensive and trying to deny the problem. He should have known that even if many of the accusations turned out to be overblown, it was the initial, negative story that people would remember - the perception that the facility messed up. Better to do what Gates did, acknowledging the problem and having a plan to fix it, even if his solution left something to be desired in the long run. In a crisis management situation, one must act immediately to save the situation and work out the details later.

3:31 PM  
Blogger Josh said...

Gates was able, as a new appointee, to take advantage of his coming to the job with problems that pre-date his service. This being the case, Gates had more confidence in owning up to his role and that of his office in insuring quality service to our military personal.

Gen. Kiley's defense was just that: a defense. Understandably, he may have felt that it was the responsibility of the troops occupying the dilapidated quarters to keep from trashing the place. However, it may have been more productive to have owned the situation, rather than distancing himself form its fallout.

5:08 PM  

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