The material below concerns the tragic effects, placed on the shoulders of our veterans, from wrong decisions on a massive scale. Already visible, this problem can only grow with time. Let me insert a brief mention of two references, to introduce the topic:
 “Forgotten Heroes” NEWSWEEK March 5, 2007, pp.29-37.
 The latest assessment of dismal performance in the defense industry, (GAO-08-467SP March 31, 2008)
I could go on and on, but I’ve already done that – in person and in print, getting nowhere. This is way way too big for one guy swimming upstream. It needs concerted effort by a group with NO aspiring billionaires in it. Our country has a crisis that will take several non-opportunistic informed people to avert future calamity. All I can do now is draw attention to this “elephant that everyone is ignoring” — and even that limited objective runs into a brick wall. Aside from technical journals, magazines won’t publish what I’ve written below (I’ve tried several since 2004), and every organization believes that this is some other organization’s problem. Meanwhile our veterans continue to suffer tragedy after tragedy. Does anyone care to stand up and say how wrong this is?
A lot of us know something is wrong. I know how to fix part of it (see JamesLFarrell.com). I’ve written and spoken on this subject for years, everywhere possible, sending my writings to dozens of people at high, low, and intermediate levels in government, industry, academia, and, military plus veterans’ organizations (all with different sets of priorities; one recipient found it provocative; another wondered whether this writer was “crazy”). Still, many informed (in some cases highly influential) individuals agree with me but no organization has focused the realization into a plan. The challenge is to bring the collective wisdom of these groups and individuals together. Why can’t that happen, especially now when so many heroic individuals sacrifice life and limb halfway across the planet? The consensus is: it’s too big and too many jobs depend on the status quo – it “can’t” be changed. I don’t accept that; I want to challenge corporate managers to change the climate. Here are some meaningful ideas.
For criticism of the defense industry, the familiar cry about fraud won’t hit the nail on the head. No one goes to the slammer for poor practice. Usage of sub-par methods isn’t justified, of course, but it isn’t illegal. It isn’t even unethical if done out of ignorance, but that isn’t the subject to be explored here. Our big corporations, with top priority attached to short-term profit, often find it useful to avoid approaches known to be superior.
In avionics (from AVIation electrONICS – a major cost factor for warplanes and other aircraft), a number of reasons can explain why this problem is so insidious, and why it produces poor performance and/or a cost explosion. Understanding this doesn’t require technical expertise:
* Expensive items in the defense budget include many separate subsystems.
* Subsystems come from independent suppliers uncommitted to each other.
* Subsystem suppliers often try to expand into providers of complete systems.
* Subsystems can be designed to work well with “our but not other” equipment.
* More control over a system means more control over modification costs.
* Modifications bring major profits, reducing motivation for early success.
* Slogans constantly express commitment to excellence – but only verbally.
* Excellence in separate parts does not at all guarantee excellence overall.
* Companies carry ideas of “proprietary” products and concepts to extremes.
* System integrators lack enough time, access to proprietary info, and clout.
* Overseers, if wise enough to master the issues, lack time to investigate.
* Superior methods are often misrepresented as needlessly complex overkill.
To those aiming at solutions, “vendor lockdown” is a familiar phrase. You can see the rationale; something like (“You have our ___ and it works best with the way we do __ – anything else will cost more”). Common-sense standardization, proposed for compatibility among separate parts, could have and should have been accepted over a decade ago.
One trend that is slowly gathering momentum is effort to restore the former expertise in agencies of the armed services (relying less on corporations). That step could relieve some problems just listed (e.g., by eliminating
from competition proposed approaches with proprietary claims). Until that becomes a reality, there are steps that could be taken now. The defense industry’s obligation to place troop support at the top of the priority list
could hardly be more obvious; it shouldn’t even have to be mentioned. Unfortunately the reality is: it not only needs to be mentioned; it needs to be shouted. At the same time, nothing will be accomplished by bashing corporations whose cooperation is needed to fix this problem. So – to those with clout in the defense industry: forget your career for a moment This is about your conscience. Wouldn’t you welcome a climate where rational planning could enable goals aiming toward long-term (instead of short-term) profit? Doing the right thing benefits the business eventually. Relearn how to wait.
Time after time I’ve heard luncheon speeches warning about how the U.S. can’t afford careless spending of the defense budget. Everyone agrees that it was a wonderful speech – and immediately proceeds with business as usual. Where’s the reality?
No illusions here about avionics procurement reform solving the whole problem. There are other items in the Defense Department inventory and, furthermore, documented abuses by the war service industry are worse than issues just discussed here. Still, a legitimate way to fix something big is to fix each part. The captains of industry need to prove that there are some things more important than profit-now. Help me refuse to quit – NOT for my sake but for those who shoulder the burden. Those are the real heroes; we all know that. A country that fails its best heroes can’t possibly stay strong.
From government, industry, academia, and, the military there are hundreds of former administrators with organizational skills I lack. Many of them, for retirement or other reasons, are not putting those abilities to use, Here is a worthwhile – even urgent – objective that could be served by awakening organizational skills now lying dormant. Here’s a “template:” In the musical play 1776 – and in the YEAR 1776 – the characters had differences of opinion and limitations like everyone else. That didn’t prevent them from hammering out a very important agreement. Something like that needs to happen, to reform all industries organized for the purpose of protecting troops put in harm’s way. Eisenhower warned us about this decades ago.