Turns out that we’re not the only ones recently reminiscing about the work of David Packard and his 1986 commission on acquisition reform. Walter Pincus, a Washington Post columnist, saw Packard’s fingerprints all over a new Defense Business Board (DBB) report on the Pentagon’s requirements, acquisition, and budget processes. And for good reason.
Here’s just one example. DBB repeated a quote from John McCain to help define the problem:
Over time, we have been left with a defense procurement (Acquisition) system that has actually incentivized over-promising and underperformance.
Now from Packard’s view, twenty-six years ago:
All too often, when a program finally receives budget approval, it embodies not only overstated requirements but also understated costs.
Packard went on to dissect breakdowns in the requirements process in extraordinary detail. DBB is now taking another shot at resolving some of these shortcomings, and one in particular stands out. The Pentagon, according to DBB, “should emphasize principles of ‘cost-as-an-independent variable’ and ‘design-to-cost’.”
If that sounds familiar, it should. General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, featured the concept of “cost as an independent variable” heavily in his January remarks at Duke. Should that language stick and the concept saturate, perhaps it may represent a step past these pre-Packard problems and toward acceptance that “strategy wears a dollar sign.”