January 22, 2004

Tomahawks and the SOTU...

I found this article on the popularity of a tomakawk as an all-purpose breaching tool in Iraq interesting. What most caught my eye was a tiny hint of sanity in the bureaucratic looney-bin of military procurement:

...In the summer of 2001, Prisco submitted his company's tomahawk to the Soldier Enhancement Program, a congressionally mandated system that allows the military to evaluate and adopt commercially available, off-the-shelf items. But after almost two years, progress on the tomahawk proposal seems to have bogged down.

Then, just a few months ago, Prisco learned of a relatively new program, the Rapid Fielding Initiative. Prisco said that in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, RFI was introduced as a way for military units about to be deployed overseas to quickly equip themselves with commercially available items that are not part of the military inventory.

RFI provides a brigade commander with a budget and the discretion to purchase whatever he feels he needs for the members of his unit � typically, a list of hundreds of individual items. It is a limited program, however. RFI budgets and ordering authority are given to an individual brigade commander in the months prior to a deployment...(via Stryker Brigade News)

Quite a few people have been saying that we need a larger military. Quite possibly it's true (though I suspect that if Bush and Rumsfeld were suddenly in favor of it, most of those people would suddenly be against it.)

Well, the procurement process employs a huge number of people. Get rid of half of them, and we could probably pay for an extra division. For all the small stuff, we should just have a testing lab to evaluate products, and more importantly, to make sure information flows between units. (Web forums and blogs would be helpful. There's an interesting mention in the article of units getting "menus" from previously deployed units.) Then give the various units budgets and let them buy what they like.

Some mistakes would be made, but they would be dwarfed by the savings in overhead, and by the better decision-making that would be done by people who actually have to live and fight with the gear, or eat the food. And who would be much more rigorous in evaluating the trade-offs between price and utility.

I think it's Office Depot that has a program, where businesses give people or departments budgets for supplies, and Office Depot keeps track of them, so people can just order supplies without any purchasing-department overhead. That's a model we should be following more.

It's called "choice." As in school choice, private Social Security accounts, Medical Savings Accounts... President Bush is pushing choice on a variety of fronts, though not as hard as I think he should. If I had had written the SOTU, the domestic half would have had a theme, rather than being just a Clintonian hotch-potch. You can guess what the theme would have been.

Posted by John Weidner at January 22, 2004 7:26 AM
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