Work needed to effect true reform

Last month's revelation that pilots are flying dangerous missions over Kosovo without the benefit of some information technology that could save lives should serve as a strong reminder that procurement reform is a work in progress.

As reported by Federal Computer Week, retired top-ranking military officials and analysts warned of the Defense Department's inability to quickly buy, develop and deploy technology that could make the bombing missions over Yugoslavia safer for pilots.

Lengthy procurement cycles have hung up the deployment of survival radios that downed pilots need to signal rescue teams. And a budgetary process that still does not give enough money to warfighters keeps DOD-specific Global Positioning Systems out of the hands of pilots who need the receivers to pinpoint their location while in the air and on the ground.

If not for the possible deadly consequences involved, the fact that pilots have purchased with their own money commercial GPS receivers and used Velcro to stick the receivers to the side of their cockpits would be downright comical.

There is no doubt that Congress and the Clinton administration have gone a long way in making the bureaucratic and costly federal procurement system for IT faster and cheaper than it once was. Hardware and software that once took years to buy and install now finds it way into the field before it is outdated. But let's not fool ourselves. The inability of DOD to quickly procure and field such life-saving tools uncovers the holes in procurement reform and reminds us that more work lies ahead.

The necessary legislation is in place. What is needed is a renewed commitment to change and a rededication to the original goals of procurement reform.

To their credit, some members of Congress are talking about taking action. We can only hope that the talk will turn into action, and U.S. warfighters, who voluntarily risk their lives, will have the best and latest IT equipment available.

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