Improve National Security with Quality Assurance Principles

It may surprise you to learn that national security could benefit from standard Quality Assurance (QA) measures and processes, widely used today throughout the business and manufacturing worlds. When QA systems are faithfully followed, effectiveness and efficiency will follow.

The acknowledged father of Statistical Process Control (SPC) (and all the successor systems like Six Sigma) is W. Edwards Deming. Following WWII, Dr. Deming advised Japanese companies and their government that lacking natural resources, they must become a manufacturing society, excelling in product design and manufacturing efficiencies. He stated, and I paraphrase, that you have no alternatives if you wish for success, prosperity, and a place in the 20th century.

Deming instructed Japanese manufacturers in the use of statistical tools as the method to achieve excellence and minimize waste. They took the bait, and the rest is well-known and evident history. Today, a Japanese company covets the Annual Deming Award, presented to businesses that succeed in the application of his principles. The primary key to the success of Deming's systems is the total, persistent, continuous, and passionate commitment of an organization's very top leader -- the chairman, president or CEO -- not some obscure QC department.

When Deming approached or was pursued by American manufacturers, especially the automotive industry, they never accepted his concept of total commitment from the top, and his messages didn't gain traction until the Japanese made it very painful. The history resulting from that development is also clear.

How does this relate to national security for America? It starts at the top with our commander-in-chief. Unless and until there is that total, continuous, and passionate commitment to and engagement in national security, it will fail, just as the U.S. automotive industry failed (and has become a subsidiary of the U.S. government).

The Israelis have it about right. First, and without apology, the nation's leaders and civilian population believe that national security trumps all other challenges. There is no second place. They use statistical evidence as their guide to effective measures to combat terrorism. The result: a 100% success rate. Not a single terrorist attack or hijacking on El Al. No luggage enters the baggage system without 100% inspection for the presence of explosives, done quietly, quickly, and without labor intensity, using technological tools. All passenger screeners are highly trained and committed to the safety of the airline, and they are certainly not unionized. Terrorists are nearly all males aged 20-35, from specific ethnic and religious origins. In good QA systems, when one supplier is accountable for 100% of defective parts, you either terminate the vendor or inspect 100% of his parts. Likewise, the Israelis very closely inspect 100% of Middle Eastern and North African Muslims males aged 20-35. Even non-Jewish American or European business travelers and tourists are more carefully screened. European and American grandmothers, however, are not statistically relevant and are only lightly considered.

The Israeli National Security team does not react -- they anticipate. They think like a terrorist searching for weaknesses of their systems, and they think about what ordinary items can be converted into weapons -- a wine bottle broken in half or a sharpened credit card. And finally, every flight carries one or more armed Sky Marshals, and they are trained and committed to use lethal force against any threat.

The Wall Street Journal published an article called "What Our Spies Can Learn From Toyota," which is consistent with the statistical focus taught by Deming. Keep organizational structures flat and the chain of command direct. Our national security apparatus is so complex, and its command structures so convoluted, that its dysfunctional nature is no wonder. Dr Deming would be appalled -- and so would Toyota, a beneficiary of Deming's wisdom.

President Obama professes to take the threats to our country seriously. I take him at his word. However, he may not comprehend that national security is (using Ford Motor's old slogan) Job #1. Each and every day that Obama is president, people will be watching him for guidance and resolve. It is his watch now, and it is up to him to keep us safe.