During yesterday’s press conference on government contracting reform, President Obama took aim at the defense industry, declaring that “We are spending money on things that we don’t need, and we are paying more than we need to pay, and that’s completely unacceptable.”
Fair enough. We more than agree that it is time to assess the capacity of the federal acquisition workforce to do its job and to clarify where and when “outsourcing” to government contractors is necessary.
But then things went astray. President Obama pointed to a GAO report last year that found cost overruns in DODs major defense projects totaling $295 million, declaring that this sum was “wasteful spending” of which one of its sources is “investments in unproven technologies.”
The solution he offered is quite simple: We need to “minimize risk” and “invest in technologies that are proven and cost-effective…If a system isn’t ready to be developed, we shouldn’t pour resources into it.”
While on its surface this makes acquisition procedures sound simple and sequential, the challenge of developing and deploying cutting-edge technologies is far more complex. Many of today’s military programs are systems that are designed to be part of larger systems. In a “system of systems” acquisition, such as the GPS constellation, the Army’s Future Combat Systems modernization effort, or ballistic missile defense, individual platforms have to be built and fielded so that these integrated components can be tested together as part of the larger network. Placing undo requirements on these programs will only further generate a risk-averse culture that will inevitably slow the acquisition process and raise costs.
Buried within the speech, President Obama also mentioned how he believed that “We are spending money on things that we don’t need,” later tying in how he plans to “make new investments in 21st-century capabilities to meet new strategic challenges.” This follows his statements last week that he wants to “reform our defense budget so that we’re not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don’t use.” It would appear this is a further attempt to lay the groundwork for cutting necessary core-capabilities from America’s military, not just by associating them with the Cold War and a bygone era, but now by identifying them as wasteful and a potential area for cost-savings. A full-court press to sacrifice America’s future conventional capabilities is on.