The Ripon Forum

Volume 48, No. 2

Spring 2014 Issue

In this Edition

By on July 17, 2014 with 0 Comments

One of the storylines in Washington this year has been the inability of Congress and the President to come together on some of the key challenges facing our nation.

And yet gridlock is nothing new in our nation’s capital. Change is hard; reform is difficult. This is true not only on high profile issues such as immigration reform and tax reform that have dominated the headlines in recent months. It is also true on more obscure issues.

The issue of fixing the Pentagon’s broken acquisition system is a good example. Politicians have been trying to change and improve upon the way our military gets its equipment and weaponry since the dawn of the republic. During the Civil War, for example, historian James McPherson has recounted how President Lincoln “functioned at times as chief of ordnance, ordering the hidebound Brig. Gen. James Ripley, who officially held that position until the president forced his retirement in September 1863, to test new weapons offered by inventors.”

More recently, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates recounted in his own memoir about the time he had to personally intervene in the effort to build Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs) because production was too slow and improvised explosive devices were decimating our troops.

According to Business Executives for National Security, 262 reports were published between 1986 and 2009 documenting the many deficiencies in the defense acquisition system. That does not include BENS’ own report published that same year. Authored by former Senators Warren Rudman and Gary Hart and Norman Augustine, the former Chairman of CEO of Lockheed Martin, the BENS report was blunt in its assessment of the challenges facing reformers:

“The acquisition process today does not reflect any rational overall design,” Rudman, Hart and Augustine wrote. “It is, rather, a collection of band-aids laid over other band-aids, each an incremental measure intended to fix a narrowly defined problem.”

We examine this irrational design and these band-aids in the latest edition of The Ripon Forum. Leading off our coverage is an essay by one of the nation’s foremost experts on the Department of Defense and national security matters — former Pentagon Comptroller Dov Zakheim, who looks at the elusive quest for acquisitions reform over the years and, as he puts it, its “long and distinguished record of failure.”

We also look at the latest reform effort underway on Capitol Hill to tackle this problem with an essay by William Greenwalt, who served as Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Industrial Policy and who writes about the scope of the challenge facing today’s reformers and some of the roadblocks standing in the way of real change.

In another area of reform facing the Pentagon, former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson delivers some of his patented straight talk in an essay about military entitlements, which, Senator Simpson writes, have been growing at an unsustainable rate in recent years, and which he warns will consume other important parts of the defense budget if changes are not made.

As always, we hope you enjoy this edition of the Forum, and encourage you to contact us with any thoughts or comments you may have.

Lou Zickar

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