Monday, January 19, 2015

the illusion of Pentagon reform

While the segment of the media that follows the Pentagon suggests that this is the year for reform of the weapons acquisition process, Alex Ward of War on the Rocks has a bracing reminder that not much is likely to happen. One of his key points:
Yet, it is important to note that, this Republican-led Congress will be friendlier to ending the financial constraints on the Department of Defense (the sigh of relief from American defense contractors is audible.) That still will not change the overall tone in Congress toward defense acquisition reform which is that it is too hard to fix, partially because it is very technical but mostly because the status quo brings money to the districts of many Congressmen. If the system changes, the money and the votes may go away. At best, then, we can expect Congress to point all the problems, but not legislation to finds solutions.
Changes in defense contracting are like changes in campaign rules and financing: winners under the current system are likely to oppose changes since change increases uncertainty and risk.

The other sad truth is that most of the touted changes are really just the other horn of a genuine dilemma.
-- Fixed price contracts seem better than cost-plus contracts, but each has real problems in practice.
-- Competition is good in theory, but keeping two contractors in a shrinking business is inefficient.
-- Preserving the industrial base has long term potential benefits and short run costs.
-- Giving contracts to innovators seems smart until the new companies screw up.
-- Fly before buy avoids some problems but delays availability of new technologies and makes it even harder to incorporate newer technologies.

There are no easy answers here.

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