The Narrow Mindedness of Defense Acquisition

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Given the pitiful state of defense acquisition for R&D and delivering new capability that defers risk to the warfighter, wastes taxpayer funding, shrinks the industrial base, steals from the future, and is an obvious threat to national security, one would think that there would be serious and concerted efforts to change it. You would be wrong! In order for something like that to happen, someone in charge would have to be responsible or held accountable. As witnessed, only subordinates are ̶t̶h̶r̶o̶w̶n̶ ̶u̶n̶d̶e̶r̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶b̶u̶s̶ held accountable. The status quo unquestionably benefits government and industry insiders, even the tiniest perceived threat to the gravy train, careerism, and comfort afforded by the system is vehemently rebuffed by bureaucrats and influential special interests. This is done, in part, by constricting and restricting thinking along with a host of perverse incentives, making it difficult for individuals to conceptualize change and unpalatable.

DoD leadership’s longtime failing to lead when it comes to this issue is confounding and frustrating. They have ignored Congressional mandates, directives, and policies. They defend business-as-usual, by casting doubt and shade over innovative acquisition authorities created specifically to remediate the obvious and long known problems. Instead they undermine them while talking out of both sides of their mouth, publicly stating support but behind the scenes it is different story and substantive action is always missing. They fashion the status quo as the “gold standard” and cast doubt over anything different or new. Then there are the government lawyers, who consistently have been acknowledged as a barrier to consequential positive change in federal acquisition. Practically every group or team who musters the energy and gathers the courage to be innovative in their business processes for R&D finds legal staff obstructing their way. It is like they are Storm Troopers protecting the “Soviet-style” institutionally corrupt acquisition system from would be rebel insurgents. It is rare to find a government lawyer who is an enabler of innovative business and teaming strategies who is following the Congressional mandates (law). These actions regularly hinder and demoralize their colleagues who are trying to explore better ways to accomplish goals and mission objectives.

Today the DoD is still full speed ahead on indoctrinating the acquisition workforce in the old ways, business-as-usual. The calls for more ̶f̶a̶i̶l̶u̶r̶e̶ barriers and bureaucracy to fix the problems of the existing bureaucracy and barriers is once again in vogue. The only thing different this time, it’s the Millennials enforcing their updated branding of the exact same status quo. They are the latest generation who believe they can “kick the can”.

The failing of defense acquisition to appropriately accommodate the age and times in which we live, in favor of furthering an institutionally corrupt system is a tragedy. The government created this problem and is responsible for solving it. Plenty of remedies and possible solutions have been provided. BUT it requires the will, some know how, intelligence, and leadership articulating actionable strategies and goals, and clearing the way. The longer one looks at the problems that ail federal acquisition, the more one realizes they are straight-forward, identifiable, and totally solvable if so desired. That this has been allowed to continue for so long is a true national disgrace.