Defense detours

Thomas R. Temin

At the Defense Department, always a place of seething factions, some of the fault lines are becoming open chasms.

Such cracks are wide enough to swallow whole programs if the brass and civilian leaders don't agree on some fundamentals. Take the flap over how the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet's systems should be tested.

Linton Wells II, when he was DOD's acting chief information officer, sought to force the program to use testing methodologies suitable for weapons systems. NMCI managers argued that such testing would needlessly delay deployment.

It's too early to tell what demands John P. Stenbit, the new assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications and intelligence, might make. But the Navy late last month reached an accord with DOD on the tests, although it had not released any details at this writing.

NMCI has another fault line, this one hidden and involving Congress. The evidence? Language in the House Armed Services Committee's fiscal 2002 authorization bill calling for removal of the Marine Corps' NMCI funding.

Navy officials have expressed surprise at this development, and Corps brass have expressed support for NMCI. But one wonders if there's not a crack somewhere high up in the Corps command chain. Or else brass are seriously out of touch with committee members.

Either way, it doesn't bode well for NMCI. Without the tens of thousands of Marine Corps seats, the Navy's underlying arithmetic doesn't hold up.

In the same bill, Armed Services proposed cutting DOD's acquisition work force by 13,000. Yet President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others have warned that DOD must outsource more to live within its means.

A future of endless reviews under OMB Circular A-76 and outsourcing might or might not be just the thing for DOD. If it is, the acquisition work force is precisely the staff you don't want to cut. A decimated, demoralized and inexperienced acquisition staff will lead to trouble.

Everywhere you look, it seems you find two worldviews. A lot is riding on decisions for 2002. If the department's leadership, lawmakers and program managers don't reach a common mind-set soon, next year will be chaotic for DOD.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director

E-mail: [email protected]


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