Procurement: Back Seat Drivers

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July 16, 2007: One of the big issues in procurement has not been so much programs flopping (as the ARH-70 has), but rather the way Congress gets involved. This is not a small matter - after all, Congress is the branch of the U.S. government that decides how money will be spent. As such, if a member of Congress is very unhappy about a program - be it a lack of progress or the selection of a winner - the program could be in a heap of trouble.

Perhaps the most high-profile example of this was John McCain's crusade to kill the Air Force's first attempt to replace its aging KC-135E tankers. McCain's efforts, motivated by a belief that the deal was a bad one, not only tied up the first plans to replace them with leased KC-767s, it ultimately forced a re-run of the competition, this time with a tanker based on the Airbus A330. The Air Force is slated to make its decision on the new competition soon.

McCain has also gone after the Air Force's selection of the HH-47 as its new CSAR (search and rescue) helicopter. McCain's argument is over whether it is the right helicopter for the job. However, other Senators have also joined in the chorus, including Hillary Rodham Clinton (New York) and Chris Dodd (Connecticut). What goes without saying is that Lockheed has its headquarters in Louisiana, and Sikorsky is headquartered in Connecticut. Both companies had contenders that lost the competition. Naturally, when 145 aircraft are to be built - a lot of money (and profit) can be at stake.

In essence, this reflects another way politicians affect procurement. Sometimes, they will earmark funds for the purchase of additional aircraft. This process was recently used to get additional C-130Js for the Air Force. It also has been used for smaller projects that may or may not work, like the Dupont DP-2, a VTOL prototype that has had a lot of difficulties. Similarly, several Congressmen have intervened in the controversy over Dragon Skin armor. After the manufacturer of Dragon Skin claimed that the Army lied - in essence claiming the Army rigged the tests - Congress held hearings.

Other times, they will try to cancel a project they oppose. The national missile defense system has been widely opposed by Democrats who currently run Congress. Some Democrats will even want to dismantle it. Other Democrats will want to restrict the ability of the military to use space.

When Senators and Congressmen get involved in procurement decisions, the military usually finds itself in a bad situation. Often it means that they will lose time in getting new systems to the field - and that lost time will cost money - and possibly lives. - Harold C. Hutchison (haroldc.hutchison@gmail.com)

 


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