"In a two-page explanation of the unexpected demise of the fleet provided by defence … no person or identity … was identified as being responsible,'' Dr Thomson says. ''To be clear: a critical capability costing the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars a year fails without warning and we're told it's nobody's fault. The worst part is that accountability is so amorphous within defence that it's a plausible claim."
Dr Thomson also says ministers are typically reluctant to hunt out who is responsible for mistakes because an antagonistic relationship with defence is more likely to result in the replacement of the minister, rather than the secretary of the department or chief of the Defence Force.
The problems have also increased defence ministers' workloads as they demand more frequent and detailed briefings, increasing the number of submissions to the minister from 690 in the late 1990s to more than 2200 last year.
''To complicate matters further, the 24-hour news cycle has increased the 'velocity of government' so that ministers often find themselves managing the ephemeral issues of the day at the expense of more substantive matters. The combination of a mountainous in-tray and a distracted (often new-to-the-job) minister is a recipe for slow decision-making, or worse,'' he says.
Dr Thomson also criticises the withering of civilian influence in the Defence Department, which he says stems from the fact the Defence Force has been involved in overseas operations for more than a decade - in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The defence organisation is split between the Defence Force, headed by its chief, and the predominantly civilian Defence Department, whose head is the secretary.
As a result, "key advice" about the size and shape of the Defence Force comes from the military, while civilians are relegated to managing the finances and drafting white papers that provide retrospective justification for decisions already made.
Yet somehow, AVM Houston allegedly did a great job; got awards for it; and was even praised by the PM upon retirement.
In this alternate world of capital level groupthink you get promoted way beyond your ability and hardly anyone gets fired for incompetence. Just the kind of environment where you want someone handling billions in taxpayer dollars.