Canadian Defence Procurement – A Procurement Secretariat? –
Cheques & Balances – Rona Ambrose's Defence Procurement Reform
Stephen Priestley, CASR Researcher
Enterprises fail when they are badly run. Extenuating circumstances might include a dramatic shift in operating
environment or inability to adapt to slower transformations. Both situations represent failures by management. It is
management's job to have contingency plans to avoid being buffeted by events. It is also part of their job to
stay abreast of emerging technologies.
By definition, management focuses on decision-making. Managers must rely on advisors to develop
those contingency plans and and review emerging technologies for opportunities for (or threats to) their enterprise.
The manager's incentive to maintain the highest-calibre Subject Matter Experts as advisors is ensuring the equally
high-calibre assessment and integration of information – for the 'health' of the responsible
manager's career and for the enterprise itself. Or at least that is how the management of complex enterprises is
supposed to work in theory.
Organizations 'Too Big to Fail' Most Often Translate into 'Too Big to Make Any Sense Of '
In recent decades, management has become a fad-driven practice. Government bureaucracies are no exception.
Indeed, the bureaucratic mindset is predisposed to becoming enthralled to such trends. The evidence is
in publications burgeoning with contentless management-speak blather and a plethora of PowerPoint displays
replete with colourful flow-charts/bulleted lists but bereft of actual information. Both serve as time-passing
substitutes for accomplishments.
That is the 'new corporate culture' facing Rona Ambrose who, as Public Works Minister, has been detailed with
'fixing' defence procurement in Canada. Ms Ambrose herself has already announced that "There are no
quick fixes" and that there is no opportunity "to transform the procurement system overnight." Too true. The Minister
has also said that she has wearied of "being told that something can't be done" and "the duplication and the
Ms Ambrose also assures us that "Things ... must continue to change because the status quo was not an option."
But we are also informed that her government is "making progress." That is less reassuring. Exactly which part of
Canada's existing defence procurement process does Ms Ambrose see are reparable? There are no under-acheiving
components that might benefit from tweaking. None that need a modest performance boost. Defence procurement
To succeed in her defence procurement reform brief, Ms Ambrose must dump a decades-old failed system and start
from scratch. No small task especially against entrenched bureaucracy.
Adopting Accountability to Curb those Bad Habits while Seizing Opportunities From Chaos
Average citizens must make routine decisions whether a particular possession warrants repair or requires
replacement. Assuming that citizen has lived within his/her means, they answer to no-one for their choices.
If, on the other hand, a citizen has routinely exceeded their income, there will eventually be a reckoning.
DND – and thus the Canadian Forces – find themselves
in the highly uncomfortable position of having
fallen into that 'coming-reckoning' category.
DND has cried 'Poor' for decades (and not without some just cause). But in that situation, any rational creature
would scale back its expectations and curb its appetites – living in a manner which is appropriate to its
'straitened circumstances'. Conversely, a petulant child would rail ceaselessly against its privations while making
little or no effort to conserve limited resources. Ms Ambrose must decide which model best fits DND – or, at
least, DND's procurement arms.
We said 'arms' because DND (and the Canadian Forces) are intimately involved with military
procurement decisions from that first brochure-browsing right up to the hand-over ceremony photo-op with
their industry opposites. As such, the Minister of Public Works might find it a bit rich when DND tries to
shift blame for any procurement cock-ups on to her Department. In reality, it's a question of too
many cooks in the kitchen. And, tragically, few of them are chefs.
With so little usable raw material to work from, Ms Ambrose may see an opportunity to create a completely new
recipe. Our recommendation would be to take cues from the few of Canada's allies whose defence procurement systems
are better organized – with clear planning and an easy-to-follow progression through the actual
procurement process. Such organizations exist but they don't guarantee a successful procurement. What they
do is make self-evident where any problems lie. Decision-making within such transparent systems would
not be for the faint- hearted. But is it really too much to ask for boldness, accountability, and a
basic competance from the bureaucrats who would decide how Canadian soldiers are to be armed and equipped?