Editor’s Corner article

Why do we need to debate defence procurement?
CHRIS MacLEAN  |  Mar 15, 2014

Change is in the wind. Although no one knows exactly how this will play out, defence and aerospace industry leaders welcome the new initiatives, hoping they will bring positive change. But just about everyone is, understandably, skeptical. There is no question that defence procurement in Canada has been declining in efficiency and transparency over many years – despite the fact that the government insists, ad nauseam, that every contract was “awarded through an open, fair, transparent and competitive process.” The government doth protest too much, methinks.

It’s difficult to tell just how serious they are about changing the process, since the first steps clearly add levels of bureaucracy, oversight, approvals and cost – all the while calling it “streamlining”. Here too, the government would do well to remember the sage admonition that actions really do speak louder than words.
However, let’s hold judgement in favour of offering constructive commentary that could prove helpful as the implementation of these various new initiatives progresses. The fact that the government is trying to effect change is encouraging, and companies are certainly eager for positive change, but industry leaders will remain unconvinced until real progress becomes evident.
Many new changes are being initiated simultaneously (the new Defence Procurement Strategy, the Value Propositions, the change to Industrial and Technological Benefits, the Defence Analytics Institute, and the Defence Procurement ­Secretariat). Although industry is swift at making adjustments in order to win new business, these new organizations and levels of bureaucracy will require a significant change in culture throughout the government (which is more often criticized for resisting change than commended for embracing it).
From the “profit and loss” perspective of industry, true change must be (a) focused on results and (b) unrelentingly pushed from the top. As George Macdonald reminds us, “the devil is in the implementation details” – regardless of how impartial and altruistic the objectives are supposed to be.
As Martin Shadwick recently wrote in his paper entitled Procurement and the Perfect Storm: “The only real certainty in this unsettling environment is that the analysis of defence procurement should continue to provide continuity of employment for the Office of the Auditor General, the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and assorted ‘think tanks,’ journalists, and ­pundits.” Depressingly true, however, with implementation of these new initiatives still in the very earliest of stages, now is the time to speak up. As some of our very experienced and informed FrontLine readers have already done in this edition, we encourage you to send in your constructive ideas and questions to be considered for future publication as the government pushes forward into new territory over the coming months.

Chris MacLean is Editor-in-Chief of FrontLine Defence Magazine.
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