Procurement: May 22, 2004

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The U.S. Department of Defense is going through a rather extreme reorganization at the moment. Its much more extensive than most people realize. A side effect of this is increased hostility towards current Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. But not because of disagreements over Iraq or the war on terror, but because these reforms threaten defense spending in many Congressional districts, and if that money goes away, it could mean lost elections for the incumbents. 

Rumsfeld wants to speed up the procurement (which can now take well over a decade) process and make be more responsive to what the troops actually need. Technology is changing at a faster and faster rate, and the leisurely procurement approach of the past simply doesnt work. For example, many current new weapons are using electronic components that are no longer manufactured because they have been replaced by far more efficient ones. Often, its so time consuming and expensive to redesign the electronic components in systems still in development, that the older ones are kept. The electronics systems in the new F-22 fighter are an example of this, but there are many others. The air force is responding by designing new aircraft so that it is easier to install new, and much improved electronics. But Rumsfeld sees speeding things up as the solution. This can easily be done by eliminating a lot of the red tape and cover your ass type procedures that have accumulated in the procurement process. But people who make their living by maintaining procedures, are not happy when someone comes in and threatens to change things so much that the procurement process will be unrecognizable to those who have fed off it for so many decades. 

Rumsfeld and his fellow reformers want to change many of the restrictions and micro-management habits Congress has piled on to the procurement process over the years. While all this was done, officially to, make the military more efficient, it has all had the opposite effect. Congressional interference is largely driven by purely political issues (like getting elected, or looking good in the media.) Building equipment the military does not need or want, interfering in promotions and training, or even specifying how the troops should be trained, have all become a standard part of the military landscape. Any Pentagon reform will have to deal with these issues. But this will be done at great cost to the reformers. Congress has the final say on the military budget, and much more. This is why reforms are often proposed, but rarely carried out. This time will be no different, and quite likely even more difficult because of the war on terror and all the politicians grandstanding over how that war is being run.

 


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