Thursday, February 28, 2013

Procure This! Maple Flavored Edition

Canada's defence procurement situation is a mess.  So is the American one, of course.  But in Canada, the tendency seems to be to defer, delay, dither, distract and deny--the five D's of dodgeball.  In the US, the tendency is to buy, pay, overpay, someone tries to kill the program, but fails, and then get fewer but more expensive and sometimes more capable stuff that is expensive to maintain.  Both countries face cost overruns, but the Americans tend to buy the program and then suck it up.  The Canadians tend to face the cost overruns and then wait some more, leading to even more overruns.  And often no capability.  Canada greatly annoyed its allies by showing up in Kandahar without any helicopters but thumb held out, hoping to get rides everywhere from the Americans and the Brits. Good times.

Anyhow, today, Dan Ross, who used to be the defence procurement guy, is in the papers, saying the system is broken.  Indeed, it is.  He blames the fact that three different agencies (Public Works, Industry Canada, Dept of National Defence) share the file, as they say.  "Mr. Ross said Canada’s procurement responsibility is “shared by everybody, and when you do that, no one is accountable.”  Ah, somewhere, Phil Lagassé  must be smiling since this is his favorite line.  And there is much to it, BUT this is also a failure of everyone else.  That simply because multiple agencies are working on something does not mean failure.  Who is responsible for holding these agencies accountable? To do their jobs?  I think that would be the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, the Prime Minister's Office, the Privy Council Office and maybe even Parliament.  The NDP has actually been doing a pretty amazing job on the F-35 file, but more needs to be done by those in government to make this process work better.

Sure, one can retire and then blame the system, but if one is in a position of power in the government, the question becomes: what did you do with that power?

The fun part:
The New Democratic Party called Canada’s procurement system a mess in Question Period on Feb. 12. In response, Public Works and Government Services Minister Rona Ambrose said her government is “responsible for the successful execution of the largest procurement in Canadian history with our shipbuilding strategy.”
Why is this fun?  Well, what ships?  There is a strategy, and there are shipyards chosen, but no ships thus far, and all signs point to the usual actors, Parliamentary Budget Office and Auditor General, crapping all over the program for being late, for being likely to produce fewer ships at greater cost than estimated.  So, when the Minister says "hey, what a great ship-building strategy," the natural response should be, "hey, emperor, you are not wearing any ships/clothes."

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