In the early months of the New Depression, the rest of the country is finally coming to terms with what military wonks long have known: that the key to saving billions of dollars on weapons buys is hiring sufficient numbers of experienced acquisitions professionals to oversee industrial competitions and the resulting contracts. It ain’t sexy and it makes for boring headlines, but contract nerds are vital to buying weapons, and thus critical to national security. But don’t take it from me, here’s Defense News:
[Defense Secretary Robert Gates said] that 1990s cuts to the Pentagon’s acquisition corps went too deep. Lawmakers have signed on to Pentagon officials’ plans to rebuild the purchasing corps.
Without adequate numbers of managers, you have to let companies oversee themselves, and that gets you screwed-up programs like the Coast Guard “Deepwater” shipbuilding scheme, which I discussed in a piece for The Washington Independent last year:
[G]overnment budget cuts in the 1990s, with the end of the Cold War, forced the Pentagon acquisitions workforce to shrink by 50 percent, according to a Pentagon panel that convened in January. This atrophied workforce was overwhelmed when defense spending doubled after Sept. 11.
A new way of designing weapons -– and the new manpower shortages -– has given rise to a new way of buying weapons. Industry teams called “Lead Systems Integrators” would take a vague military requirement and a large pot of money — like Deepwater’s projected $25 billion over 20 years — and go to town. …
“It is the equivalent of putting a very juicy steak in front of a very hungry dog, and expecting the steak to still be there the next day,” said Jim Atkinson, one of a handful of engineers cleared by the National Security Agency to inspect complex communications systems.
More contract nerds equals better oversight and less corruption, fraud and waste. You could save billions.