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Finding ways to tame Pentagon spending at last

By WILLIAM S. LIND

WASHINGTON, March 13 (UPI) -- Once the American people figure out what to buy for real wars, another reform would help them buy it at reasonable prices. It is a common tool in private business called "should cost."

Based on marketplace prices for similar systems and components, we would determine what a given system should cost. Bids would not only be compared with each other but with the "should cost" figure. If all the bids were over the "should cost" figure, we would rebid or decide to do without the system. Prices would soon come down, especially if at the same time we made it easier for companies that now do no defense work to get into the business.

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Another simple procurement reform that would turn from state capitalism to the free market is buying off the shelf. When a service identifies a need, it would look around the world to see what is available to fill that need. Then we would build it here, under license if it were a foreign design.

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At present, the U.S. Department of Defense buys virtually everything by coming up with a wish list, then finding someone to build it. It is as if when you wanted a new car, you came up with a list of everything you wanted in that car, then went to an automobile company and asked them to build it for you. You can imagine what it would cost.

This is just a small sample of real defense-procurement reforms. Among the longtime military reformers are people who have studied defense procurement for decades. They have identified many other similar reforms that would make a genuine difference. Of course, that is why none of the reforms they recommend have ever been enacted.

The late former U.S. Air Force Col. John Boyd used to say, "It is not true the Pentagon has no strategy. It has a strategy, and once you understand what that strategy is, everything ... does makes sense. The strategy is, don't interrupt the money flow; add to it."

That was true before the Obama administration, it will be true while it is in office and it will still be true when it ends. The people the administration has appointed to the Pentagon -- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates excepted -- know the strategy, benefit from it and will continue it. They will defend it as if their future incomes depend on it, which, of course, they do.

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The one wild card that could change everything is the growing probability of national financial collapse. If that happens -- or perhaps when it happens -- defense procurement will be on the chopping block along with everything else. At that point, reformers' slogan should be, "Keep the combat units; cut everything else."

If the American people have a secretary of defense strong enough to do that -- even though the bureaucracy will want to do the opposite -- they will find that almost everything above the battalion level was waste, fraud and abuse of one sort or another.

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(William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation.)

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