Despite efforts by Congress two years ago to tighten procedures for the way the U.S. armed forces buy weapons, the process remains splintered and riddled with scandal and waste.
Perhaps it is time to take the whole system out of the hands of the military and place it under what some are calling - for want of a better term - a Procurement Corps, independent of the Defense Department.Certainly it makes more sense to have a central weapons-buying agency for the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, etc., instead of each doing its own thing, often buying similar goods at different prices.
In 1986, Congress adopted a number of reforms, but their implementation has been slow and partially ignored by the separate services. Each jealously guards its prerogatives and control over weapons.
There has been some progress, particularly in the newly-created job of vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a post established in part to coordinate inter-service buying.
The armed forces are doing better in some respects. There is at least more communication about procurement. Yet the process has been disappointingly slow. Rapid change is not the Pentagon's strong suit.
In some respects, the services have changed the system more on paper than in reality. The Defense Department has set up a "procurement czar," as have the service branches, with lesser ranks known as "procurement dukes."
Unfortunately, this system has simply been laid atop the existing structure. In most cases, the new jobs are not full time, but have simply been added to the officers' other duties. Only the Air Force has made the job full time.
Purchasing for the armed forces is a huge undertaking, running into the hundreds of billions of dollars. As recent events have shown, there are ample opportunities for over-charges, graft, waste, and incompetence.
An independent purchasing agency wouldn't solve all these problems - the elephant is simply too big. But it would offer opportunities for savings and some efficiencies.
If an independent agency is established, care must be taken to insure it does not become another layer of military bureaucracy, with the previous layers still functioning below it.
Any such change must be radical in nature, must sweep away old structures, and must give taxpayers more for their money while not hurting the defense system. These do not seem unreasonable demands.