Lack of Vision in DoD Acquisition – an unvirtuous legacy

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Visionaryone having unusual foresight and imagination

Visionaries are revered or reviled; a lot depends on where they are in the pecking order.  Most folks laud the visionary CEO or entrepreneur, but the middle manager or technician not so much.  One represents hopes and dreams, the other is a pain in the rear.  In Ayn Rand’s, Atlas Shrugged, the visionaries in society went on strike, leaving only the regulators, bureaucrats, and looters to make the plans.  This led to nationalized impotency and frustration.  Several years after Rand’s book, President Eisenhower warned about the influence of the military-industrial complex, they were visionaries and what they saw, at least within the defense business, has quietly come to pass.

What does it mean to be a visionary?

Visionaries quite simply are people who can take in a lot of information, process it, and create a detailed mental image of the end-product or goal, and have knowledge of how to accomplish it.  They can do this and establish a variety of connections quickly.  Since much of the heavy lifting is done in their minds via vivid images, this accelerates the learning curve and process for all.   This is where the talent really comes into effect, translating and leading with that vision, getting buy-in.  With the bolstering of Other Transactions and related authorities in recent years there is a lot of opportunity for those with vision to break the chronic dysfunction and do something special.  Current DoD acquisition leadership simply does not have a clear vision, for whatever the reasons they cannot see it.  It will depend on the next generation to understand what it means to do business in a commercial-like fashion unencumbered by a highly regulated purchasing system.

There is concern over the documented decline in critical thinkinskills nationally (careful thinking directed toward a goal).  Bureaucracies, like the DoD and large defense contractors, are known killers of critical thinking.  In their ambition to standardize and regulate everything, they do so at the peril of the things that do require thought. The workforce operates with only a notion of the larger picture.  In government acquisition programs, the term “silos” is used to describe how the functions operate separately with their own goals and priorities that are often different or even counterproductive to the overall mission goals. There is not a lot of careful mission-directed thinking. This is par for the course, as the DoD continues to use a highly regulated purchasing system, instead of an alternative designed for the sophisticated business of advancing the state-of-the-art and capability; in psychology that would be labelled “faulty thinking”.  The fact that they keep doing it repeatedly, would be called insane!

Congress in recent years has bolstered Other Transactions authorities, providing the core of an alternative “commercial-like” acquisition system.  This means freedom to visualize, structure, and strategically approach business in a wide variety of ways to benefit project goals.  Nobody in leadership has taken the ball and run with it, preferring to stick with losing strategies and punting.  Recent data (in fact all data ever!) shows that this system continues to degrade; 35 years after the seminal Packard Commission report showing that it is a massive dumpster fire of costly inefficiency.  Yet despite the continued failure – failing the warfighter, taxpayer, and Nation; the whole mass of government acquisition trudges on, in what can only be concluded as a system that protects itself, a comfortable and lucrative insiders’ game, especially for those at the top.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” – Upton Sinclair

The Nation places a lot of hope and faith in the advancement of science and technology.  To remain mired and hindered by a system never designed to do the work should be akin to criminal. Today’s massive government enterprise requires digging deep into the pockets of the future.  For this to have a reasonable return on investment, momentous advancements need to occur.  The government should act as a facilitator for advancement, not as a barrier.

“It takes 16.5 years on average to deliver a new capability… it takes China only three.” – Mike Griffin, former DoD Undersecretary for R/E, 2017 Congressional testimony

There is tremendous need and opportunity for visionaries and those with critical thinking abilities in government acquisition.  That this has remained lacking for so long is now legacy.  The current state of abysmal performance is prime for a revolution in fresh thinking.  Luckily, Other Transactions are there to support this if anyone cares to develop a vision.

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” – Confucius

Stop making doing business in America difficult… it’s not, doing government bureaucracy is.

written by Christian Dunn, Managing Partner
*Strategic Institute is a mission driven organization; we welcome the opportunity to speak with any senior leader at no cost because this is critical.