Magazine article National Defense

Procurement Blues: After a Decade of Largesse, Not Much to Show for It

Magazine article National Defense

Procurement Blues: After a Decade of Largesse, Not Much to Show for It

Article excerpt

* Departing Defense Secretary Robert Gates--a reformer who valiantly sought to curtail waste and redundancy--probably did not put a dent in the U.S. military's bungling procurement apparatus.


Gates, to be sure, tried. He canceled several major programs that were too expensive and superfluous, and ordered an overhaul of contracting practices. But he leaves behind a Defense Department that has failed miserably at investing for the future.

Like the proverbial lottery winners who fritter their money away the Pentagon's "investment" programs ballooned by $700 billion over the past decade, and yet today's military has little to show for all that money. The armed services continue to operate predominantly Reagan-era aircraft, ships and ground vehicles that gradually are becoming technologically obsolete and increasingly costly to maintain.

After a decade of lavish spending, the Pentagon is now left with an aging fleet of weapon systems, an overstrained force, out-of-control personnel and healthcare costs, and no idea of how to prepare for tomorrow's wars.

The procurement holiday of the aughts, unlike the one of the 1990s, was of the Pentagon's own choosing. Military analyst Anthony H. Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says unrestrained spending has covered up a decade's worth of failure to plan and manage. "Cutting failed procurements, seeking mythical improvements in efficiency, and making yet another attempt to improve contracting are not a meaningful route to success."

Each of the four military services now faces unaffordable modernization and manpower plans, notes Cordesman. "The only way forward is to make hard, unpleasant trade-offs that put an end to the constant escalation of the cost of major weapons." Procurement is as out of control as ever, he adds. Despite Gates' hard won cuts, procurement reform remains a "sick joke."

The Defense Department has bet its entire air modernization effort on a troubled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, he says, while the Army seems incapable of formulating a modernization plan, much less executing one. The Navy is racing to make its ship building effort as unaffordable and as impractical as its air modernization effort, and the Marine Corps has shown that it is equally inept in managing its comparatively smaller acquisition programs.

Gates has pointed out that most of the significant new technologies that have emerged over the past decade--mine resistant trucks, improved body armor and aerial spy drones--were largely paid for outside the base budget via supplemental war requests. …

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