Tuesday, January 13, 2009

“Defence Procurement Canada”?

A post by David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen (links added):

Defence academic Aaron Plamondon
has a new study out on military equipment procurement in Canada. Mr. Plamondon is from the University of Calgary’s Centre for Military and Strategic Studies.

Here is a brief excerpt from the conclusion of his 47-page report:

“Another problem for the CF is that there has always been a lack of an overall, long-term procurement strategy. The DND no longer relies on the annual Strategic Capability Investment Plan [2006 seems to have been the last], and the Report on Plans and Priorities remains the best source for information about the general shopping list of the CF [excerpts from 2008-09 Report here].

It provides an outline of where a project is and a future timetable. But it does not prioritize between projects, and many of those included are no longer on schedule or within budget. As we concluded in the Opaque Window report, most of the major procurement projects no longer resemble the original plan.

The MHP [Maritime Helicopter Project] is not even close, and the Mobile Gun System which has been discussed since 2003, is still included in the report. Approximately 17 million dollars has been spent on the project but the obvious intent is to close it out completely, given that the CF reversed its decision to retire heavy armour capability and is buying new tanks [more on the Mobile Gun System here and here].

This absence of long-term procurement planning is symptomatic of the lack of highly trained personnel within the department who have overseen multiple projects over a long period of time. Most often, ad hoc project offices are created and once the project is over, the members of the team scatter to other posts. There is, quite simply, a lack of expertise in an area that is vitally important to the CF.

There is also a lack of accountability within the departments involved in the process. When Alan Williams appeared as a citizen before the Standing Committee on Defence in 2007, he explained: “If you wanted to bring a minister here to be held accountable for defence acquisition, you could not do that.” [See "From the Department of Stupefyingly Obvious Statements" and "Alan, meet Aaron. Sorry about your credibility."]

But Williams’ book does offer a solution. Of his twenty-five recommendations on how to improve the process, his main conclusion is to have a single agency responsible for Canadian defence procurement. He calls it “Defence Procurement Canada,” which would be under the authority of the Minister of National Defence. He is absolutely right. In fact, this same recommendation was made within The Management of Defence in Canada in July 1972.

Although this created the ADM (Mat) position in the first place, the expansion of departments and committees involved in Canadian defence procurement sustained a lack of accountability.

Although defence contracts are far more expensive, technical, and complex than are other government purchasing contracts, there is no specialized agency to effectively carry out these projects. This would also remove the functional overlap between the DND and the PWGSC.

If Defence Procurement Canada—or some derivative of it—is eventually formed, the real need would be to focus on procurement- specific training and on retention of the people with these skills. It must be a professional organization with a memory; the history of Canadian defence procurement is vital to understanding the pitfalls of our past in order to avoid the mistakes that have characterized it.

And since there will never be enough money available to fully equip all aspects of the CF, Canadian procurement must be as efficient as possible. Part of the training and retention of talented and experienced procurement officials would also solve the ongoing problem of weak project management of major defence acquisitions.”
This is the abstract of the "Occasional Paper" (I could not find the full text online):
No. 2, 2008 - Aaron Plamondon: Equipment Procurement in Canada and the Civil- Military Relationship: Past and Present.

The procurement of military weapons and equipment in Canada has historically been controlled by partisan political considerations rather than by a clear desire to increase the capability of the military. Civilian leaders have typically given actual combat strength a low priority, thus Canada has often failed to effectively design, produce, or even to purchase the weapons and equipment its military needs to carry out the priorities of the civil power. Distributing regional economical benefits equally among the provinces instead of acquiring equipment in the most efficient manner possible resulted in numerous contract scandals and exceedingly long procurement timelines [long a hobby-horse of mine, and a concern of former CDS Rick Hillier--see end of this post; odd that the paragraph here is not in Mr Pugliese's post].

To secure even the most modest materiel, officials within the Department of National Defence (DND) have had to comply with a succession of rules that can only be described as illogical from a standpoint of military performance. Rather than designing a more efficient method, the DND's internal process has continually evolved into an amorphous mass of bureaucracy involving myriad committees requiring endless analysis, re-evaluations, and approvals, thus compounding the problem. This research demonstrates the ahistorical nature of military acquisitions in Canada and how few lessons have been learned from a long list of project failures. This results largely from the political misdirection of the procurement process and the weakness of the civil-military relationship in Canada.


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