Murphy's Law: A Nasty Business

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December 28, 2007: The U.S. Army is procurement bureaucracy, that network of suppliers and government (uniformed and civilian) bureaucrats that has, for decades, decided among themselves what the troops needed, is not happy. Ever since the Internet became widely available a decade ago, the troops have been sharing notes more quickly, and are finding commercial sources for gear that performs better than what the army provides. Troops have always bought superior commercial equipment, usually from camping and hunting suppliers. And a lot more of that gear has been available in the last decade. Because the word gets around so quickly via the net, useful new gear is quickly purchased by thousands of troops.

After September 11, 2001, with a war on, having the best gear was seen by more troops as a matter of life and death, rather than just more comfort when out in the field. Noting this trend, and not wishing to get hit with a public relations disaster, the army has been tracking which commercial items are most popular, running them through some quick tests to make sure they are the real deal, and then buying large quantities and issuing them to the troops. This saves soldiers lots of money, and gets gear out there which is already "soldier approved." Often, individual divisions and brigades will use their special "Rapid Fielding Initiative" funds to buy this stuff, which puts more pressure on the army to buy it for everyone. This process has also speeded up the introduction of equipment that the army itself is developing. For example, the new Kevlar helmet, first developed by SOCOM (Special Operations Command), became a popular item with any troops who used them. Soon, the Advanced Combat Helmet was being widely issued to army combat troops.

The "Rapid Fielding Initiative" was itself created by senior officers who were also unhappy with what the procurement bureaucracy was turning out. And with all that email use, if was only a matter of time before the politicians got hauled in as well. Unhappy troops, or their friends and family, would bug members of Congress, and that would reverberate off army brass and procurement managers.

The ultimate irony of all this is that the army procurement folks have long proclaimed that "the soldier is our customer." But in this case, the customer was not given much choice, or even much say, in what was bought for them. Part of this was the military's fault, because each of the branches (infantry, armor, artillery, etc) had their own little procurement bureaucracy, which further muddied the water. In the end, the "customer" took what they were given and that was that. No more. All because of the Internet, and letting some sun shine in on a nasty business.

 


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