Editor’s Corner article

Great Debate on Procurement
CHRIS MacLEAN  |  Jan 15, 2008

Every year at this time, FrontLine’s Great Debate edition offers the defence community an opportunity to weigh in on issues of wide concern. Defence procurement tops the list once again, however, as Alan Williams points out in his submission, Canada may be facing a lack of political will to actually make defense procurement work (efficiently & effectively). After years of listening to all sides – big business, small business, government, the taxpaying public, and defense analysts – it seems obvious that a complete reformatting of the defence procurement system is necessary, but will it happen?

I received many positive comments on Bernie Grover’s Best of Breed suggestions (Vol 4, #6), yet one government “insider” told me that similar ideas had been floated before and he doubted that the concept would get any traction this time either. I suppose hitting one’s head against the wall, year after year, tends to foster a somewhat pessimistic outlook... however, FrontLine is years away from giving up, so buckle in for a long ride, or find ways to really make a difference.

Sprinkled throughout this Great Debate edition, are golden nuggets of ideas offering very workable fixes that can alleviate some of the immediate problems while clever minds (including experienced users, analysts, and industry representatives) are tasked with rethinking the entire defense procurement system. A tall order, to be sure, however, with operational needs at current levels, it is becoming more urgent every day.
Calls for the Government to get serious about a defence industrial policy ­resonate throughout many submissions.

We must all shoulder the blame for allowing our Canadian Forces to be in a dangerous environment without the necessary helicopters or UAVs.

Granted, approval levels were likely instituted when NDHQ had little else to do – “back in the day,” otherwise known as the “decade of darkness” – when funding was being systematically whittled away. The world has changed since then, and it’s time for the approval process to be streamlined – another aspect identified in our Great Debate.
These built-in layers of approval are nothing more than avenues for influencing the system without triggering litigation risks. Nine stages to achieve final Treasury Board approval to proceed? Right.

It is no myth, they do exist and are paralyzing the process beyond acceptable expectations – one wonders if liability isn’t also being pushed to the limit. Likewise, is specifying so many requirements for off-the-shelf projects, that no product can comply, another delay or influencing tactic?

Procurement delays are costing lives – there is no doubt in my mind. In order to increase the safety factor for his troops, the Chief of the Land Staff needs UAVs to see beyond the next hill, yet the UAV requirements are repeatedly being changed. How can we ­justify these delays when our kids are paying the ultimate sacrifice?
© Frontline Defence 2008