This article from CJR's archives is presented as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.
The surprise ending to this tale began to unfold a few days later, triggered by a media campaign I initiated with two goals: (1) to protect Nash’s reputation, which others would attempt to soil to protect themselves, if he resigned, and (2) to push in front of administration elites evidence that our program was being marginalized, in hopes they’d move to save it. To protect Nash personally, I needed a sympathetic local reporter, someone especially insightful who wouldn’t write that his resignation was an act of desperation. The day before I’d had a short meeting with a Wall Street Journal reporter, Yochi Dreazen, to explore the notion of a profile. His stuff usually appeared on page one, according to Nexis. I found him affable, worldly, and, above all, compassionate.
Back on December 17, Dreazen had hoped to fly to Washington with Nash, but it was too late to make the arrangements. The idea had been for Dreazen to observe a bidders’ conference scheduled for December 19, but the conference was postponed at the last minute after we failed to get permission from the Office of Management and Budget to release to industry the Requests for Proposal that solicit bids from prospective prime contractors. We could have held the conference if we had received permission, even as late as December 18. But without RFPs on the street, there was nothing to be gained by a bidders’ conference because there would be nothing on the table for potential bidders to discuss. When we were told by OMB not to release RFPs and to make no plans to release them until further notice, we began to suspect that our program was spinning downhill, out of our control.
Now Dreazen and I cut a deal: I would tell him everything I could off the record, with the understanding that he’d be the first to have news of Nash’s resignation and free to use everything he had. And if Nash didn’t resign because others agreed to fix what he said had to be fixed, then Dreazen could write that story if he felt it was worth it. My part of the bargain was unconditional, his was not. There was always the possibility that there would be no story at all, or, worse, that the facts would unfold in such a fashion that a sympathetic treatment would be impossible. This was putting a lot of trust in an untested relationship, but there wasn’t much choice. The only option was to let Nash walk away from his office in the middle of the night, leaving others to wonder who did what to whom.
The plan for saving Nash and his construction program was to get the story featured prominently in the media, creating enough pressure to force a decision either to restore the program or throw Nash overboard. This approach carried inherent risk to me personally, but there was no course that was risk-free. Taking risks is a professional responsibility, and I’m supposed to be the civilian leader of the Army’s public affairs community here.
On Christmas Day I sent Dreazen my take on how the PMO world was falling apart, expressing a belief that Nash’s resignation was imminent. There was no indication that anyone at the Defense Department wanted our RFPs released.
The essence is that everyone is talking about Nash but no one is talking to him,’ I wrote. ‘The preponderance of opinion seems to be that Nash’s staff will never reach critical mass … . The big question remains: Will there be a role for him or not, and if someone offers him something inferior, will he take it’ One midlevel person in D.C. was quoted yesterday as saying, ‘Nash is in over his head.’ My view continues to be that Nash was given a mission by Bremer and he’s worked hard to pull everything together to make it work. His approach is both realistic and visionary, carrying the onus of many who are ahead of their time.’