Procurement
May 27, 2013

Defence procurement: Does anyone care?

A year since my last article on defence procurement, positive change is lacking while negatives abound. Does anyone care?

Maritime helicopter issues continue: with deliveries originally required in 2008, interim machines may start Armed Forces service in 2013. Does anyone care about the huge delivery delay? The purchase of standard military trucks, cancelled last summer, has been re-activated with equipment originally envisaged for 2008 service maybe arriving in 2018. Does anyone remember that in 2006 this requirement was categorized as “urgent” by DND?

The F-35 has gone from the only aircraft, to reassessment, to competitor claims of delivery for half the price, to recent reports from the U.S. that aircraft’s shortcomings may actually increase the risk that it will be shot down in combat: the once-championed stealth wonder may be “best” at killing our pilots. That group clearly cares, but what sway does it have? The CF-18s must soldier on, while the in-fighting in Ottawa continues.

Dan Ross, former ADM Materiel at DND, talked about infighting in January 2013 after his retirement. He was probably referring to differences between National Defence (client), PWGSC (buyer) and Industry Canada (economic benefits). Was he also subconsciously including bureaucrats within any one or all of those organizations fighting each other or playing the system for rank, power and budget?

A proposal to deal with that infighting would meld the organizations now involved with defence procurement into a single agency. Whatever happened to “form follows function”? You cannot organize until you actually know and have agreement on the job. Putting organization first promises yet another player in the inter-agency infighting, with people across government vying for promotion to the new positions while (in case they do not succeed) still fighting to keep “their” power and resources from being moved into the new agency.

By Action Plan 2013 another challenge had arisen: budget cuts threatening the Armed Forces’ ability to support what they currently have, let alone anything new. Naval supply ships: the PBO has suggested that the government will either have to come up with another billion plus dollars or scale back the ships’ capabilities significantly. Defending the north: the army’s capacity may be compromised by a lack of training funds. The new Chinook helicopters: DND says that it does not have the money to support them.

Can anyone really understand budget decisions to pay (or not pay) for a non-existent defence strategy?

This gloomy perspective comes when the government has a report suggesting that Canada make better use of its defence procurement to support and develop Canadian industry. Just what we need – an incentive for more infighting, adding highly volatile fuel to the fire as to what the government’s priorities should be. We continue with the awful non-mix of requirements, resources, rules and political priorities, all set in the risk-averse environment of government.

The seemingly constant stream of failures does not seem to be leading to substantive actions. Studies and reports and advisors and recommendations are all too often deflecting smoke and mirrors. As long as failures do not result in lateral staff relocations, and the heavy hitters can say, “we are studying the situation,” does anyone really care?

I think that departments need to place much more emphasis on finding people with the right competencies and interests. Good procurement people are born, not made overnight, and defence types (whether on the technical development side or in procurement) may be even rarer. If departments rotate people through key positions solely for career development, the priority is in the wrong place and the results will be poor.

You can never really know who will turn out to be the best procurement fit. What you can do is find possible fits, nurture them, and get them another job as soon as they show they are not suited. It does not seem to be happening.

The right people, a clear mandate and appropriate funding…Shangri-La. Does anyone care enough to really look for it?

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