Letters to the Editor

Lack of balance in WLMP story

I have been exposed to the Army's Wholesale Logistics Modernization Program, which was discussed at length in your story, "Bill targets logistics outsourcing" [FCW, June 1], from a different perspective. I work at the Logistics System Support Center (LSSC) in St. Louis. We, along with the Industrial Logistics Support Center in Chambersburg, Pa., developed and now support the Army's wholesale logistics computer systems. It is our 517 jobs that would be privatized.

First, this is not a $1 billion program. The draft request for proposal states that the maximum funds available to the winning contractor in any of the 10 years the contract runs is $34.5 million. As new systems are fielded under the contract, the contractor assumes the responsibility for the operations of those systems. The additional funds available for operations vary from $0 to $12 million per year depending upon the extent of proliferation. The maximum potential total for any year is $42.5 million multiplied by 10 years— falling considerably short of even half a billion dollars.

The RFP also limits the contractor hours per year that can be expended. Based upon current contracting standards with two firms already working at LSSC, that equates to fewer than 80 people working full time each year. Those 79-plus people will have the responsibility of maintaining the current legacy systems as well as developing the new replacement system. The current maintenance job is being accomplished by 316 full-time federal workers and 113 contract resources. Those 79-plus people are going to be busy.

The RFP includes 90 percent of the current work force with little regard for the duties performed. Functions including acquisition, quality assurance, war reserves and foreign military sales— previously deemed inherently governmental— have been included in the contract. The Army Communications-Electronics Command (Cecom) has ignored the Office of Management and Budget's A-76 guidelines and has illegally skirted around Title 10 legislation by using its own home-grown definition of privatization.

The principle thrust of the "congressional firestorm," as you call it, is to enforce those laws and guidelines. Not to prevent privatization, where it is beneficial to the Army, but to prevent activities from contracting out functions that should be retained in the government. Or to do so without analyzing the alternatives to determine if, in fact, it is in the Army's best interest. Cecom has not conducted any cost analysis on the option it is pursuing, or any of the alternatives. It has ignored any information that does not directly support its supposition.

The DOD authorization bill language you referred to does not preclude the privatization of the central software design activities. It merely requires that the Army follow the existing laws to determine if, and to what extent, the activities should be privatized. Issues raised by a number of legislators, Republican and Democrat, questioning Cecom's compliance with the law have gone completely unanswered. Direction to Cecom from Rep. Herbert Bateman (R-Va.), who is chairman of the House National Security Committee, to cease further activity on this contract until the committee has answered those questions has also been ignored. Cecom continues to proceed with the acquisition, despite being told not to do so and despite any authorization to conduct the associated personnel actions.

[Thomas] Michelli's assessment of the root issue being employment is erroneous. The privatization proposed by Cecom includes employment for 'displaced' government personnel. The issues are flagrant disregard for the law and those actions harming military readiness. There is no risk mitigation in this contract. Failure of the contractor to perform leaves the Army without any contingency plans and without the means to execute them. A principle risk is the loss of corporate knowledge that is necessary to maintain the legacy system until the new system is implemented. That legacy system is in direct support of the warfighter. A parallel could be drawn between this computer system and the Army's helicopter program. When the Army contracted for research and development of the next-generation helicopter, the Commanche, it did not strip the support and maintenance for the Apache (or the Cobra, or the Huey, etc.). To do so would have left the Army crippled and would have undoubtedly cost lives. The existing helicopters, such as the legacy wholesale computer system, need to be fully supported until the new helicopter system can be implemented, tested and evaluated. Disregard for the significance of the wholesale logistics systems can impact the readiness and effectiveness of our armed forces.

Privatization horror stories are just as easy to find. You might also want to consider in whose eyes some of the privatizations are seen as successes. There is an obvious slant on your reporting. All of your supporting quotations come from the private sector, which stands to gain from privatization. You did not quote anyone from the government saying anything about how this would be good for the Army, how much money would be saved or how readiness would be protected as a result of this project. The Hughes Electronics privatization you referenced is rapidly becoming an example of how privatization can go wrong. The employees in Indianapolis, formerly government workers, are experiencing a decided lack of work and may soon face layoffs. Your statement about the private employer bringing in more work and more jobs is not the reality for those workers.

If the private sector is paying all these displaced government workers better pay and benefits, and virtually all of them are being offered jobs, then how can it be cheaper for the taxpayer? We currently employ 113 contract personnel whose average cost per hour exceeds the government workers' burdened rate by nearly $30. (The burdened rate includes the cost of the facilities, insurance, retirement, etc.) In our experience with contract resources, the costs go up and the time line grows longer.

You would do well to learn of and report on events from more than a single viewpoint. From a eagle's viewpoint, an encounter with a field mouse represents a tasty meal and continued existence. The field mouse, on the other hand, has a different perspective.

Robert Eufingervia e-mail

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