Editor’s Corner article

Is a Blue Ribbon Panel the best option?
CHRIS MacLEAN  |  Mar 15, 2013

Bustling along the hallways of the Fairmont Château Laurier during the 2013 Conference of Defence Associations AGM was retired Vice-Admiral Ron Buck. Muttering about a blue ribbon panel as he scurried away, he reminded me of Alice’s rabbit. And he was almost as difficult to corner, but I didn’t let him get away! After some convincing, he agreed to put his solution down on paper for FrontLine readers. Especially important is his focus on the need for a robust system to challenge requirements specifications and the need to make defendable discretionary decisions to stay on track.

His idea, which was also put forward a week later by Jeffrey Simpson of the Globe and Mail, clarified a solution that had been rattling around my own head. A few key factors helped me reach a parallel conclusion that a Defence Procurement Panel could correct current organizational failures of defence contracting:

  • A general consensus that government contracting decision-makers lack basic business acumen (or worse, consider it irrelevant). This results in a blatant ­disregard for the gravity of financial repercussions from program resets.
  • A realization that defence procurement cannot be fixed from within due to political career ambitions and the paralyzing fear of any level of risk.

An overly risk-averse environment has developed. Careers apparently hinge on how adept one is at managing all forms of risk. Hence the “safe” announcements aimed at making sure there is ‘no risk’ of being ‘at risk’ of actually making a decision. (Have a problem? There’s a Secretariat for that.) The fact that no one Minister holds final authority for defence procurement speaks to the avoidance of bad press and legal challenges. But hiding is not the answer.

A Procurement Panel could incorporate some aspects of Australia’s RPDE program (2011 FrontLine Defence, issue 6) which seconds industry representatives to its evaluation group. From my perspective, the optimum panel would include a number of respected, non-partisan, civilian leaders (John Manley comes to mind) and former military leaders who are now high level industry executives of Canada’s large and medium-sized businesses.

Why military leaders? For one thing, they can probably recognize an actual requirement vice a facade intended to deceive those who don’t know any better. They also understand the financial implications to shareholders (taxpayers) when an utterly inflexible process results in the disqualification of a good product.

This requires many more pages to dissect, and certainly does not address the problem of dwindling budgets, but, in your opinion, is Ron Buck on the right track? Who would you nominate for the Panel? Visit our FrontLine Defence Magazine LinkedIn Discussion Group to nominate someone or to comment.

© FrontLine Defence 2013