Military Procurement Process: Changes on the Way?

There are few things more complicated than the Military Procurement Process.  No doubt, rigorous controls are required for certain mission critical functions, but it seems that bureaucratic roadblocks exists at almost every phase of the military procurement process.

military procurement process

On the eve of the release of a new framework to improve the military procurement process, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Republican Rep. Mac Thornberry, vented his frustration with the following explanation:

The Army decided in 2005 it needed a replacement for its M9 Beretta pistol and then spent 10 years writing and rewriting requirements.

The final request to gunmakers was 350 pages with 23 attachments and added $15 million to the cost. After a decade, the Army still had not decided what caliber the gun would be or what ammunition it would use.

Meanwhile, U.S. small arms companies make more handguns in a month than the Army will buy in 25 years, the Armed Services panel found.

“So a commercially available revolver or handgun would be just fine. Maybe it’s OK to get our handguns in a commercially available way in the future,” Thornberry said.

An advisory panel – Section 309 – has recommended the following framework needed for acquisition reform in the military procurement process:

1.  Adapt at the Speed of a Changing World
The United States is operating in a global environment that is more fluid, more interconnected, and faster evolving than at any point in history. To adapt to this reality, the acquisition process must be agile enough to respond to rapidly evolving threats, and fast enough to develop and deliver new capabilities within the arc of emerging threats.

2.  Leverage the Dynamic Defense Marketplace
The defense industrial base has changed, and to maintain technological advantage, DoD increasingly must leverage the commercial marketplace. To be successful in this broader marketplace requires a fundamental change in the DoD–commercial relationship. DoD must become an attractive customer with which commercial firms want to do business. This need requires DoD to be a more sophisticated buyer that is responsive to market dynamics, company interests, and the greater economic landscape.

3.  Allocate Resources Effectively
The U.S. military faces multiple threats posed by increasingly capable adversaries and uncertain domains of warfare. It also contends with constrained defense budgets. To more effectively and efficiently allocate resources, DoD must better align and coordinate how it budgets, sets requirements, and acquires what it needs, to include not only major weapon systems, but also the services and low‐dollar items that make up more than half of DoD contract spending.

4.  Simplify Regulations
Some of the regulations and statutes governing defense acquisition are outdated or no longer applicable and should be amended or repealed to make the system more effective and efficient, and expand the number of companies willing to do business with DoD.

5.  Enable the Workforce
The current acquisition laws and regulations are overly complex, difficult to understand and implement, and contain requirements that result in people making suboptimal decisions and being risk‐averse. DoD needs an acquisition system that is simple, understandable, and executable by people operating in an environment that empowers and incentivizes them to make decisions that lead to positive outcomes.

Frankly, the same “reform” recommendations could be issued for the Department of Veterans Affairs.  There is no need to enlist the services of an “independent” panel to make such self-evident recommendations.  In fact, all 5 recommendations could be summed up rather easily:  “Use common sense!”

Clearly, complex weapon systems require a rigorous system of controls and due diligence.  In most other cases, procurement through an “unregulated” market is probably a far more efficient way to source products at a reasonable cost.

For instance, the Beretta M9 which has been standard issue for the last 35 years has now been replaced by the P320 of German origin.  With only 20% of US Army personnel issued “combat arms,” presumably far less require sidearms.  Does it really take this long to “upgrade” our firearm capability when drones seem the weapon of choice.

Wouldn’t it be far more efficient for the US Army (and presumably other arms of the military) to provide a “recommended” handgun to those servicemembers who need them but provide others with the option to bring their own weapon as long as it is duly registered and approved by unit officials?

Clearly, lethal weapons require additional controls, but there are many budget items that receive the same level of controls and regulations that are probably not required.

Bureaucratic procurement controls tends to lead to fraud and abuse as we have seen in the recent scandal regarding parts for Humvees.

The only way to improve the procurement process is to identify those areas which require disciplined oversight, but endeavor to open the playing field to more reputable suppliers.

SFTT Military News: Week Ending May 19, 2017

Found below are a few military news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage SFTT readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT.

Secretary of Defense Weighs In on War with North Korea
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Friday that any military solution to the North Korea crisis would be “tragic on an unbelievable scale” and Washington was working internationally to find a diplomatic solution. North Korea has defied all calls to rein in its nuclear and missile programs, even from China, its lone major ally, calling them legitimate self-defense.  Read more . . .

Military Handgun M-9 handguns

Could the US Military Purchase Handguns Online?
The Defense Department may start doing a whole lot more online shopping in 2018, if Republican Rep. Mac Thornberry has his way. The Texas chairman of the Armed Services Committee unveiled new legislation Thursday that aims to cut costly bureaucratic red tape at the Pentagon by allowing the military to buy everything from pens to treadmills from business-to-business sites such as Staples and Amazon. That would free the federal government’s biggest bureaucracy from using its current “expensive” and “onerous” contracting and scheduling process to buy its commercial goods, according to Thornberry.  Read more . . .

Large Number of Troops Separated for Misconduct had PTSD
Nearly two-thirds of the 91,764 U.S. troops who were separated from the military for misconduct in a recent four-year period had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress, a traumatic brain injury or another condition that can lead to misconduct, according to a report released Tuesday, raising questions about the Pentagon’s treatment of combat veterans. The Government Accountability Office found that the Defense Department needs to take action to make sure that commanders appropriately consider medical conditions when weighing what to do with service members facing misconduct allegations. Some 57,141 troops were separated from the service despite a potentially relevant diagnosis between 2011 and 2015, and 13,283 of them received other-than-honorable discharges that could prevent them from receiving care from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the report said.  Read more . . .

Improper Payments at VA Continue to Grow
The Department of Veterans Affairs cost taxpayers $5.5 billion dollars in improper payments last year, according to a new report by the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General published Monday. An improper payment is any payment that “should not have been made or that was made in an incorrect amount under statutory, contractual, administrative, or other legally applicable requirements,” according to the report. The findings, published on May 15, reported an increase in improper payments from $5 billion in 2015 to $5.5 billion in 2016. It also found that two VA programs failed to keep their rate of mistaken payments below 10%, and six of its programs failed to meet reduction targets set last year.  Read more . . .

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

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Meet David Cox: Dr. “No” of VA Reform

Meet J. David Cox, who many consider “Dr. No” of badly needed reforms within the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA’).

J. David Cox

J. David Cox

J. David Cox is President of the American Federation of Government Employees and is the person most likely to block any meaningful reform within the VA.  SFTT has had an eye on Mr. Cox who in the run-up to last year’s Presidential election, threatened the previous secretary of the VA with physical violence:

Cox was “prepared to whoop Bob McDonald’s a – -,” he said. “He’s going to start treating us as the labor partner … or we will whoop his a – -, I promise you,”

The new VA Secretary, Dr. David Shulkin, is rightly receiving favorable media coverage and support from both parties in Congress on his forceful new leadership.  In fact, the New York Times recently referred to Dr. Shulkin as a “Hands On, Risk-Taking ‘Standout.'”

The New York Times reports the following example of Dr. Shulkin’s responsiveness (and common sense):

After he first took the job, he grew concerned that the agency was not doing enough to prevent suicide after a news report showed high rates among young combat veterans. Suicide prevention leaders told him that they would put together a summit meeting to respond, adding that it would take 10 months.

Dr. Shulkin told them to get it done in one month. When his staff members pushed back, he pulled out a calculator and began quietly tapping, then showed them that during the delay, nearly 6,000 veterans would kill themselves. They got it done in a month.

“For me it was a very important day,” he said, remembering the meeting. “It taught our people you can act with urgency, and you can resist the temptation to say we work in a system that you can’t get to move faster. I think they learned that you can.”

Indeed, SFTT has greatly admired the decisiveness with which Dr. Shulkin has attacked two chronic problems with the VA:  A bloated infrastructure and the lack of authority to manage the VA’s large workforce.

While Congressional Republicans and Democrats have largely agreed on an “accountability” bill to support the firing of VA employees, J. David Cox argues that:

“Trampling on the rights of honest, hard-working public-sector employees is not the solution to holding bad employees accountable for their actions,” American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox said. He said the bill would set up different standards for VA employees and other federal workers.

In fact, just recently it was reported that “a federal appellate court overturned the firing of Sharon Helman, who presided over a Phoenix VA Health Care System that left veterans waiting for weeks or even months for care while phony records were kept to show the agency was meeting its wait-time goals.”

Dr. David Shulkin, VA Secretary

While I hope that Dr. Shulkin has the fortitude to implement the bold changes he has outlined, the entrenched bureaucracy represented by David Cox and others, such as David Cifu, will continue to undermine his efforts.

The VA has simply grown too large to manage effectively.  Dr. Shulkin is right in arguing that the lives and well-being of Veterans are far more important than defending the rights of a few “bad apples” within the VA.  David Cox should embrace the vision of Dr. Shulkin and act in a manner which reflects well on the work ethic of the vast majority of VA employees.

Veterans, Veteran organizations and our elected officials should provide Dr. Shulkin with a clear mandate to bring about the much needed reform within the VA. Our Veterans, their family and friends and an appreciate public deserve no less.

J. David Cox would do well to join forces with Dr. Shulkin in this effort rather than taunt him.

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