Yardsticks for Weapons…And for War

A U.S. contractor teaches Afghan police recruits how to shoot / Air Force photo by J.T. May

After more than 30 years of watching the U.S. military pour money into weapons that can't meet performance, schedule and cost targets, you sort of become inured to such chicanery. "It would be impossible to sit here and justify the current process, given that it has not delivered the capabilities we've required within the resources available to do so," Army General Martin Dempsey, soon-to-be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at his confirmation hearing three weeks ago. "And so I think that we're at a point where we absolutely have to seek acquisition reform."

Absolutely have to seek acquisition reform? Where has the good general been for the last three decades? I can recall hiking over to the White House in 1986 to interview industrialist and former deputy defense secretary David Packard after he led a commission to reform defense acquisition once and for all. A year later, the Pentagon's first top weapons buyer - a job the Packard Commission urged be created - quit the post, complaining that the Pentagon refused to change. Asked who opposed his efforts to improvement Pentagon procurement, Richard Godwin said: "Anybody who's in the present acquisition system." The situation remains the same - and in some ways is worse - a quarter-century later.

But weapons are one thing. Wars are something else.

That's why the joint investigation by the Pentagon and State Department's inspectors general released Monday is so dispiriting. Their probe into the Afghan national police training program, and the transition of that program from control of the State Department to the Pentagon, concludes:

DoD and DOS officials did not develop a comprehensive plan or develop a memorandum of agreement to guide, monitor, and assign transition responsibilities. Instead, officials relied on independently developed contractor plans, some of which were not feasible and did not address inherently governmental tasks. This occurred because DoD and DOS lacked guidance for planning a transition of contract administration responsibilities from one agency to another, which contributed to contractor schedule delays. In addition, DoD officials reported that the incoming contractor did not have 428 of the 728 required personnel in place within the 120-day transition period, which placed the overall mission at risk by not providing the mentoring essential for developing the Afghan Government and Police Force.

Further, at the end of the 120-day transition period, DoD did not have the personnel in place to effectively oversee the new DoD contract. This occurred because DoD did not establish a program support office until 19 days before the contract was awarded and did not formalize an agreement for managing oversight personnel, communication, and information sharing between commands. Until oversight personnel are in place, DoD will be unable to adequately monitor whether the contractor is performing its contractual obligations and achieving the goals of the program.

A couple of things are self-evident. If this gobbledygook is just that - busy-work for the green eyeshade crowd - why are we paying them to do it? But if it is really important, why can't we get this right? It becomes clear after wading through decades of reports like this that the nation's eyes are bigger than its stomach, both when it comes to the weapons it buys, as well as the wars it elects to fight. Yet generals continue to be promoted and contractors continue to be handsomely paid (in fact, in this case the contractor's proposed $600,000-plus award fee - a bonus for a job well done - was cut by more than half…but still paid). It seems the only ones paying for both kinds of snafus are the young men and women we so chest-poundingly send into harm's way.

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