Editor’s Corner article

Defence Procurement: Just Too Many Chefs
CHRIS MacLEAN  |  Jul 15, 2011

Predicting the future – we getting better at it, but are regularly surprised by the weather. Governments have a prime duty to ­protect its citizens and therefore must be diligent in maintaining both capability and capacity because no one can predict what catastrophes, natural or man-made, will be faced tomorrow.

Yet, fiscal realities mean important requirements must also be balanced with consideration of the risk vs responsibility. They must not, under any circumstances, be based on utopian ideals of peace and serenity. The hard truth is, there are bad people who exploit our every weakness (especially our “niceness”).

A government must prepare for reasonable risk, and thankfully, the 41st session of Parliament has a majority of people who “get it.” They understand that defence and security will, all too soon, approach the levels of public concern that currently exist for health and education – yes, even in the relatively safe haven of Canada!

That being said, there is a huge impediment to equipping defence and security forces, and that is egos and bureaucrats. The government is being hampered by those who can’t bear to loosen their stranglehold on portions of the high ­profile world of defence contracts. Hopefully, looking at this process afresh is what new Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino has been tasked with. If so, he has a ­gargantuan job ahead of him as there is much to be done. Streamlining the steps, eliminating the equal veto power scenario, and assigning responsibility and authority to one position. Pick a problem, get it fixed, then move to the next. Stop agonizing over little fixes that prove insignificant at the end of the day.

As it is, defence procurement is so complex, with so many players, that it is practically a sector unto itself – and it has entirely too many chefs. Knowing that those involved are public sector personnel helps to explain why it seems the most important consideration at each step along the way is to ensure all butts are ­sufficiently covered. This adds a lot of delay, and often cost to any project.

The government is not risk averse, it is risk paranoid. Consider, for instance, the high numbers of non-compliant bids. Currently, if someone at PWGSC finds a small error, they must declare a bid to be non-compliant, wasting, in some cases, millions of corporate dollars invested in the bid process. How many of these could have been salvaged (saving money, attaining a better competition for possibly a higher quality product) by incorporating a “Bid Repair” system for small issues? Of course, this doesn’t allow a company to change its technical solution or price but they could provide clarification, add material that was not explained properly, or correct minor inconsistencies – which are almost inevitable when teams of 20 or more are putting together multi-thousand page proposals in tight timeframes.

While we cannot predict the future, it’s safe to say that capacity and capability for security and protection must be increased with haste. I think we can all agree that, for whatever reason, disasters are not subsiding. More frequently, Canada will be called upon to save and protect her own citizens (such as from the overwhelming flooding this year in both Quebec and the West) as well as offer assistance globally.

This is no time to hide heads in the sand. As the saying goes, lead, follow, or move aside – there is work to be done!

© FrontLine Defence 2011