March 12, 2009 – How about some insider information for at least some? You may be aware of the politics of government spending and how it affects politicians. Once in a great while, politicians do try to take the politics out of spending but it ALWAYS seeps back in.
A few days ago, President Obama promised to clean up Defense contracting to avoid cost overruns and other perceived abuses of the spending. Of course from the time dollars are appropriated to buy for Defense until at least the contract is awarded, it is political. The results have been disastrous in history with purchases like guns that didn’t work, etc. But there are these rules called Federal Acquisition Regulations which Defense must follow. There are also very high paid professionals who administer contracts, sheparding them through the process of bringing the user (Navy, Air Force, etc.) to agreement with a manufacturer over what the final product will look like. These professionals have a difficult job because the Services keep changing their requirements and everyone has to at least consider the changes (usually plural). So it is harder to inject politics into Defense procurement. When the President made his statement, I perceived that what he really wants is to break down the barriers to politics in Defense procurement because there are huge dollars involved that can be distributed to friends instead of the best value contractor. So it’s backward in time we go.
A few years back when Trent Lott was the majority leader in the Senate, the Navy awarded a contract for building ships to a contractor in Maine. Being in the know, I’m convinced that the Navy dotted all the I’s and crossed all the T’s. But was Trent Lott happy? You guessed it. He sent Navy back to the process and insisted that his state of Mississippi should have that contract – after all he was the Senate majority leader. If I’m not mistaken, Navy is not getting that ship.
Now we have the politicization of buying Air Force aerial tankers. It seems Airbus won the contract about two years ago, John McCain interfered, Boeing lobbied, and the contract award was suspended. Fast forward to the Wall Street Journal today and a story appears about how Congress wants to split the award to satisfy all parties. The Congressman involved is Chair of the House Armed Services Appropriations Committee who is assisted by John Murtha. The politics of this appears to be purely, “let’s get this one out of our hair” but I never assume that the politicians will not benefit somehow (at minimum in campaign donations). John Murtha is at the top of a crowd most benefiting from their positions and a disgrace to the Marine Corps by the way.
What is happening with tankers is an abomination because first the Air Force still doesn’t have any new tankers and they DO need them. Second, splitting the contract will likely double the “life cycle cost” because there will have to be two different maintenance organizations that will be trained, documented, and equipped differently. There will be double the number of spares shelved for two different airframes. This is just to name some of the problems. The President appears to want this kind of chaos. All for what? Politics seeped back in AGAIN!
Retired Naval Officer