See, this is why we can’t have nice things…

Possibly the most dysfunctional thing in the world is the procurement procedure for major items in the US military.

How bad is it?

Every time there’s a Democrat in the White House, or the country is in a recession, you start to see a lot of news articles about streamlining the procurement process. Sadly, what happens is, every attempt to make the process fair, avoid graft and waste, and to make sure the services are buying stuff they really need results in this nightmare.

Putting the Department of Defense in charge of procurement and logistics (as opposed to the individual services) has been an unmitigated disaster. And it is only going to get worse.

5 thoughts on “See, this is why we can’t have nice things…”

  1. Brad,

    I sent you an email addressing just this issue a while ago. It included a question but you never got around to answering me. So here it is again:

    How would you personally set up the procurement process to make it as efficient as possible?

    1. Gage, that’s a big question, and I’ll give it some thought. But suffice it to say, there’s no easy way to cut the Gordian knot. Incredibly, compared to a lot of other countries, our system works pretty well. But compared to a lot of businesses (who themselves have terrible procurement systems), it is a nightmare.

  2. As a certified acquisition logisitician, I’ll wade on into this a little bit.

    It actually works not too badly, consiering. The main problems are:

    1. Dealing with Congressional AND DOD mandates. One of these mandates is that anything which can be done in the private sector we need to use commercial off the shelf (COTS) in the defense world, especially in IT systems. This may make a lot of sense for some areas and some things but it fails 2 major tests; the Army is about killing people and breaking things, not about increasing stock value for the shareholders. Try finding a COTS IT system which can handle ammo or aviation maintenance….doesn’t exist.

    2. This actually is a pretty decent system and it ensures a weapon/truck/aircraft is producable and sustainable throughout its life cycle. What impacts programs greatly is when you plan as a PM on a number of XX to buy over the life of the program (based on a specified need) and the number gets cut. Well the company that won the bid expected XX number of dollars for making the equipment; down trace manufacturers planned on making a set number of parts. Now the per unit price rises to cover the manufacturers total cost since most major procurment programs are cost/plus. See your C-17 story.

    3. Requirements creep is an enormous issue. Just watch The Pentagon Wars….way too much truth in that movie.

    4. Support infrastucture designed to support one set of systems is usurped for other purposes so that when you get to the field with The Next Great Thing it works poorly because the communication pipes are bogged down with VTCs and Powerpoint driven BUB….and those pipes were supposed to support your system.

    And by the way, I have taken many hundreds of hours of training over 3 years so I can understand that chart. It actually makes sense to me….which is a sad ststement about me!

    And you should have seen how bad the process was before the acquisition reforms of the 80s & 90s!

  3. 3. Requirements creep is an enormous issue. Just watch The Pentagon Wars….way too much truth in that movie.

    I’d say the VH-71 program was the ultimate version of this. A simple helicopter for 30 minutes transit had to have gold plated VTC comms and a fully equipped galley? Jeebus, he’s the President, not the Sultan of Brunei. Give the guy a sammich! The WH kept changing the requirements not just after the contract was let, but after the program was cancelled.

    And while I’m willing to admit that the system works fairly well for a lot of items, the big ticket items are such political hot potatoes that skill in program management is less about engineering and handling contractors and more about lobbying Congress and making sure subcontractors are in as many congressional districts as possible.

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