Editorial: Outsourcing wars stifle change

The Defense Department can't seem to win when it comes to modernization. Just when the Pentagon is poised to revamp its logistics operations, the program falls victim to all-too-familiar congressional turf wars.

The Army's Wholesale Logistics Modernization Program (WLMP) would appear to have everything going for it. It represents a major effort by DOD to adopt commercial practices and shed itself of functions that are not core to its mission— in this case, the operations of software design centers of logistics systems. At the same time, the Army expects to get significantly better logistics services at lower costs.

DOD as a whole has determined that the only way it can afford to fund the much-needed modernization of its entire operations is by carrying out privatization wherever it can and plowing the savings into information technology and weapons procurement.

But Congress may throw the whole program off track with some obscure language in the House version of the fiscal 1999 Defense authorization bill that effectively would preclude the privatization of those software centers and put the kibosh on WLMP. The snag is 517 jobs that would be lost in one congressman's district.

Congress is an ardent supporter of DOD's prudent budget strategy and its commitment to adopting commercial practices. But, as is the case with other outsourcing initiatives— such as DOD depots and the Defense megacenters—

Congress supports radical change as long as it doesn't occur in Congress' backyard.

This is one case in which the nation cannot afford to have a good program get snared in politics. Everyone knows DOD cannot afford not to modernize all aspects of its operations, from logistics to command and control. That modernization will not occur unless DOD begins the process of peeling off functions that can best be carried out by the private sector.

No one can fault a congressman for looking out for the people in his district. But if DOD has any hope of modernizing its warfighting capability, Congress must put politics aside and make some unpopular but ultimately necessary decisions.

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June 8, 1998

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