Friday, June 21, 2013

Defence Reform: Drinking from the Firehose

Today, I attended a workshop organized by the Atlantic Council on comparative defence reform--what can Canada learn about improving its procurement processes from the US, UK, and Australia.

As I tweeted, I am the Jon Snow of defence reform--I know nothing.  Ok, I know a bit, but not that much.  So, it was interesting to learn a great deal from these various cases.  I was going to Storify from my live tweets of the workshop, but Storify and I are having some problemos.  So, just some highlights:
  • It seems like all of the democracies (at least the ones that speak English and have majoritarian political systems) have tried to reform their defence procurement systems on a regular basis, like every three to five years.  And the processes seem to remain mostly broken with the same patterns over and over again (the UK rep suggested that they were the exception since they changed their structures).
  • Canada is particularly messed up since having multiple ministers accountable mean that no minister is accountable.  While I am skeptical about the ability of the Canadian parliament to hold any minister accountable, I have at least one friend who believes otherwise.  Still, I am convinced we have the worst of all possibilities--a broken set of institutions and a government that prefers to deny reality than try to change things.  If it only had a majority in parliament, it could get things done (oops, it does!).
  • This procurement stuff is central to civ-mil relations--the tensions and dynamics between the civilians who make the decisions about what to buy and deploy and the military who have to live and die by those decisions.  Militaries would like to tell the civilians not just what their requirements are but also what they prefer in terms of equipment, crossing a line a bit, while the civilians would like to revise the requirements, crossing a line a bit.  Oops, everyone is in everyone's turf, so let's call it a crisis in civ-mil.  Seriously though, today really showed me that my effort to build a Canadian network of civ-mil folks definitely needs to include these kind of people.
  • There was a tendency among these folks to argue that oversight meant delays, risk aversion, and greater inefficiences.  Bad oversight?  Sure.  But it would seem to me that one could construct a system of oversight that provided incentives for innovation and risk-taking.  But we do live in an age of risk intolerance.  Hmmm, something to ponder.
There is probably more, but I am too tired from fighting with Storify.  Strange things were happening with it and with Chrome so I give up for now.  Next time.

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