The Department of Defense (DoD) acquisition process has been a topic for reform discussion since President Dwight D. Eisenhower made his farewell speech highlighting the evils of the military industrial complex in 1961. Since then there have been countless studies, reports, inquiries and investigations examining the DoD acquisition processes in the name of reform. For the most part, the studies conducted by various groups and organizations all result in similar conclusions. We need reasonable oversight, reduced regulation, fair practices, and honest ethical actors working within the Iron Triangle to ensure the American taxpayer gets the most "bang" for their buck. Nevertheless, year after year, and program after program we continue to read media accounts of mismanagement, misappropriation, and unethical behavior. The ever present 24-hour news cycle highlights every mistake and rarely spends any on time the thousands of successful programs hard working people manage each day.
Like our system of government, the defense acquisition system has a set of check and balances that force extensive oversight and constant scrutiny of everything we do. Although we often revisit lessons we should have learned from previous experience, for the most part the system operates just as it was designed – slow and deliberate. Despite occasional setbacks, our seemingly constant state of reform is most likely the reason our military industrial complex continues to produce the best, most sought after weapon systems in the world; however, there is always room for improvement. These improvements or “reforms” must include and focus on streamlining our acquisition process through reduced regulation while continuing to look for efficiencies and holding bad actors accountable for unethical practices. Reform is our norm.
The sky is not falling Chicken Little
In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with the process we have in place – we just need to follow it. However, our ability to do that is hampered by an overwhelming mountain of bureaucratic regulation. In the words of Norman R. Augustine, Retired Chairman & CEO, Lockheed Martin Corporation, the regulations governing the DoD acquisition system have become “… a collection of band-aids and patches placed one on top of the other, each to make certain that some problem that occurred somewhere in some program sometime in the past can never, ever occur again.” Like our tax laws over the years, these “band-aids and patches” have resulted in countless additions to the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FARs) and Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) making getting anything done in a timely manner almost impossible.
Countless case studies have pointed out that our biggest acquisition blunders are typically caused by unethical actions (not following the rules or downright criminal behavior) on the part of one or more actors in the Iron...