The common definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior hoping for a different solution. The Pentagon’s acquisition system is the poster child for insane behavior. Having failed repeatedly to reduce the cost of major defense products or the time it takes to move a new weapons system from development to full-rate production by increasing audits, oversight and program reviews, the bureaucracy’s solution to the lack of progress is to do more of the same.
Another form that insanity can take is to know and even on occasion practice the right behavior necessary in order to achieve a successful outcome but refuse to employ it consistently. An example of this is the schizophrenic who is perfectly functioning when on his/her medication but refuses to consistently take it.
A great example of this second form of insanity is the Pentagon’s inconsistent use of Performance Based Logistics (PBL) in its sustainment activities. PBL-based mail, maintenance and sustainment contracts focus on maximizing outcomes of interest to the customer (e.g. engine time on wing or hours of power delivered) rather than traditional maintenance measures such as the number and cost of repair activities. The company makes money by satisfying the customer’s objective, generally the highest number of platforms and systems available for duty.
The Pentagon has known about the virtues of applying the principles of PBL for nearly 20 years. Federal acquisition regulations direct that this approach be used if at all possible. For over ten years Boeing in partnership with Pratt & Whitney provided support to the Air Force’s fleet of C-17 transports that resulted in over $3 billion in cost avoidance. The U.S. Navy arranged four PBL-based contracts for support of its HH-60 helicopters with such companies as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and the Maritime Helicopter Support Company (a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky Aircraft). A recent Department of Defense analysis of PBL-based contracts, called Project Proof Point, showed that time after time this approach reduced costs and improved the availability rates of platforms and systems.
If the facts are indisputable, why is there still so much resistance in the defense department to basing maintenance and sustainment contracts on the principles of PBL? The typical answers are institutional resistance, an antagonistic acquisition culture, and lack of adequate training for government officials regarding the creation and maintenance of PBL-based agreements. In other words, even though the bureaucracy knows the right thing to do and how to go about fixing the problem they would rather continue doing the familiar dysfunctional behaviors; they prefer being crazy.
It is time to organize an industry-government working group to work through the cultural and bureaucratic impediments to expanded application of PBLs. Anything less is to perpetuate the insanity.
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