"War is the greatest threat to public health." - Gino Strada, Italian war surgeon and founder of the UN-recognized Italian NGO Emergency

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Weapons System Acquisition Reform??? Which word doesn't fit?


What's wrong with this phrase, "Weapons System Acquisition Reform"? O.K., here is a clue. Include the word "Pentagon". Now you've got it; it's that word "Reform". This is definitely not a word in the Pentagon's vocabulary, and when a couple of U.S. Senators tried to institute a bit of reform with regard to the way the Pentagon buys all those expensive weapons, like the F35 Joint Strike Fighter, the bill didn't do to well; you might say it was eviscerated.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (MI) and ranking member John McCain (AZ) introduced the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009 (S 454), which promised to significantly reform Pentagon spending practices. When the bill got to markup, the committee stripped all of the regulating ability from the bill, and made many changes at the direct request of the pentagon (according to the Friends Committee on National Legislation).

It's the old story of the fox guarding the hen house; the amended or re-written bill would allow the Pentagon to conduct its own oversight AND permit it to waive many provisions of the legislation for "national security" reasons. Well that should just about cover just about any purchase the Pentagon should want to make. The committee also weakened the requirements for the Pentagon to seek competitive military contracting.

The Pentagon has evidently gotten so used to getting a blank check for its pet projects that it has absolutely no intention of letting anyone reign in its spending habits. And as luck would have it (for the Pentagon) the Senate version recently passed.

The House version of the bill currently being developed looks more promising (but don't hold your breath). It would require independent oversight of acquisition processes, and more effectively enforce oversight guidelines if it isn't also gutted like the Senate version. Of course, if it is stripped of all its teeth, then it will be easy for to reconcile the bills when they go to committee.

The bottom line - Don't let any of the "We're going to get tough on military spending" bravado fool you. Although any substantive reform of military spending is a step in the right direction, the problems with military purchasing are so deeply systemic that they can't be fixed with a few pages of legislation. It's all about a deep seated culture that has developed around defense spending (and particularly acquisition) that will require a significant paradigm shift if there is any hope of stopping the massive amounts of tax dollars being poured down the drain. There are enough rules that already exist, which, if followed, would prevent much of the waste that has been discussed recently.

The Pentagon has poured billions of dollars into the F-22 Raptor, conceived during the Cold War to fight a Soviet fighter that never materialized. There is finally talk of deep-sixing the program, but I wouldn't bet on that. Defense contractors have spread their operations all over the United States - a prime example is the C-17 Globemaster - all but guaranteeing support for their programs by members of Congress who will go to great lengths when they smell the pork, even continuing unnecessary programs like the F-22. Don't count on any substantive change coming out of Congress on any form of military spending unless the people bring significant pressure to bear. Congress and the Pentagon are like shopping addicts; they need some serious aversion therapy.



Click here to read a detailed analysis of S-454 at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. Click here to read FCNL's letter asking Senators to amend S-454.

No comments: