The Priority of Progress & Quality
CHRIS MACLEAN
© 2017 FrontLine Defence (Vol 14, No 2)

The first objective in the government’s strategy to improve defence procurement is “delivering the right equipment to the Canadian Armed Forces and the Canadian Coast Guard in a timely manner.” This is precisely the kind of matter-of-fact assurance that Canadians expect to hear from their government, and should result in a well-equipped military and coast guard that are robust enough to handle evolving threats (if this goal is accorded the priority it deserves). The second objective is “leveraging our purchases of defence equipment to create jobs and economic growth in Canada.” The question is, how do these two objectives rate in terms of prioritization? Should getting the best equipment to ensure the safety of our military personnel depend on how many jobs can be created at home in the process? The third objective is to streamline the procurement process.

Presumably that goal would reduce the mind-numbing, time-wasting, cumbersome, career-protecting, multi-layered approvals that do a fantastic job of absorbing years, but hinder or outright block progress.

Those three altruistic objectives belie the reality of recent events that prove fairness and transparency are almost non-existent (except in press release texts), and that politicking and power games are becoming entrenched (wearing down the best of us). 

Progress in this case requires calm leadership and the confidence  that comes from a clear understanding of the complexities faced by the end user. Such a leader recognizes how and when to take risk. Decision-making by committee (as procurement is done these days) has proven the inverse of efficiency. Bold, well-reasoned decisions can only be made if based on a comprehensive understanding of how each acquisition will be used, and can only be effective if there is a clear chain of accountability.   

It has been argued that military requirements are “gold plated,” or that insufficient rigor and analysis go into the development of requirements, or that the military simply wants “toys.” These arguments demean the sacrifices that our uniformed men and women make as they willingly go into harms way, often putting their lives on the line, to protect Canada and project Canadian values abroad. We owe them the best equipment they need to do their jobs effectively and with confidence.

Results-oriented requirements, rather than the laborious and counter-productive process of minutely detailed requirements often seen today, will shield bidders from “directed” RFPs and ensure that contracts for new platforms and equipment can be assessed and awarded in shorter, more business-like timeframes. 

Combine a mission- or results-oriented requirement with an incentivized offset program (rather than restrictive, as highlighted in our last edition), and include a weighting system to reward quality and durability, and Canada will be well on its way to a truly streamlined, visionary alternative to the massively broken and fractured system that has developed over the years – and will satisfy all three of the government’s defence procurement objectives. 

 

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