Congress Hires A Scientist To Find Out
BY RICHARD McCORMACK
The House Small Business Committee has initiated a wide-ranging investigation into the deteriorating health of the industrial base and its impact on national security.
The committee, chaired by Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Ill.), has hired Dr. Sheila Ronis, president of the University Group of Rochester Hills, Mich., to analyze industry trends on a scientific basis. Ronis has been one of the country's leading intellectuals speaking publicly about problems the military is experiencing due to outsourcing and globalization.
Congress wants Ronis to provide it with a different viewpoint of the industrial base as compared to the one being presented by the Pentagon, which critics say concentrates on the financial returns of defense-specific contractors. DOD's Office of Industrial Policy under Suzanne Patrick has issued a set of reports that find these companies to be profitable and strong.
"My job is to put together a conceptual framework so we can begin to collect some data to improve the overall understanding of many of these industrial base issues and the defense portion of these issues," says Ronis, a systems scientist. "We're going to look at many things."
Ronis believes that policymakers are not making the connection between national and economic security, and that the health of General Motors is as important to the nation's security as the health of a large defense contractor like Lockheed Martin. "We may be able to supply our military with [manufactured parts] from our allies, but while they may be military allies they definitely are not economic allies," says Ronis.
Ronis has signed a contract to work with the Small Business Committee, but those involved with her work say she will have broad powers to conduct her research. Since her contract had to be approved by the Committee on House Administration, "she will be working with all of the resources available to Congress," says one committee aide. As such, Ronis will use the leverage of Congress to coordinate a substantial effort to gather data on the industrial base.
The effort could potentially last for years, and will likely involve requests for research and studies from the Congressional Research Service, Government Accountability Office, National Academies of Sciences, National Science Foundation and federal agencies including the departments of Energy, Commerce and Treasury. Hearings are expected to be held in coming months.
"We're going to try to get a lot of different entities within the federal government to start looking at this issue from a different point of view," says Ronis. "As a systems scientist I attack problems as any systems scientist would: holistically and looking at interdependencies."
Falling under the purview of the Small Business Committee also gives Ronis a broad mandate. The small business constituency is involved in every sector of the U.S. economy and therefore its issues extend to the jurisdiction of many congressional committees and federal agencies, particularly DOD.
A contract of her type is rare within Congress.
"The industrial base is a large, complex adaptive system and looking at any one element without looking at its context has potential problems," she says. "We are going to look at the defense industrial base set of issues, but that is only one of many elements that will be looked at." Others include federal acquisition policy; high-technology research and development funding and resources, training and education of scientists and engineers; trade flows; government trade policies; Wall Street incentives that are leading companies to buy their manufactured products from overseas rather than make them in America; intellectual property protection; and investing in the competitive infrastructure of the country.
"This is not a defense problem, this is a national problem and that is why it can't be solved just by the Department of Defense," says Ronis, who can be reached via e-mail at Sheilarr@aol.com.
-- BY RICHARD McCORMACK
About Sheila Ronis:
Sheila Ronis is a systems scientist with a B.S. in physics and mathematics and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior received from the Ohio State University. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Detroit Mercy and Oakland University where she teaches courses on business management and globalization. She teaches at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. She has taught "grand strategy" to the management faculty at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Penn. She has worked for the Pentagon helping to develop a vision for the Defense Reform Task Force and in developing an operational definition of the "Revolution in Business Affairs."
Ronis is the founder of the Institute for Business and Community Services at the University of Detroit, which was created to help the U.S. automobile industry become globally competitive. Her company, the University Group Inc., has worked with General Motors since 1988 and with Ford since 2000. She was involved in the creation of the United States Consortium for Automotive Research and the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles.
Earlier in her career, Ronis worked at AT&T, Ohio State University and the Energy Research and Development Administration (now the Department of Energy). She began her career working at North American Rockwell in Columbus, Ohio.
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