Pentagon Outsourcing its Brain?
Sharon Weinberger points to two recent articles highlighting the “concern that the Pentagon has lost its technical expertise” and is over-reliant on so-called “Beltway Bandit” defense contracting firms.
A subscription-only article in the WSJ highlights Mitre and Booz Allen Hamilton, which Weinberger correctly points out have exemplary records, and the March Vanity Fair takes an exhaustive look at SAIC, whose track record is more complicated.
My views on such matters are colored by long-ago experience as an Army officer and more recent stint as a defense contractor. Further, my dad retired from the Army and then again as a Department of the Army civilian. Anecdotally, I’d say that the lion’s share of the uniformed soldiers give an honest day’s work for their pay, most contractors do the same but are generally overpaid, and civilian civil servants range from motivated professionals to tenured dead weight.
I’d much prefer that the technical expertise reside in the uniformed military. Not only would that give the taxpayer more bang for the buck, it would eliminate the bizarre incentive structure we’ve created where having a government issued security clearance becomes the equivalent of a union card in a closed shop, ensuring that talented people are locked out of the system. Indeed, a lot of people who now leave government service for a more lucrative and flexible career as private contractors would instead stay if that option were less readily available.
The problem, however, is that the military personnel system does not reward expertise and stability. Soldiers are rotated from assignment to assignment and duty station to duty station at a rate that virtually precludes developing the systemic and technical knowledge needed for the more complicated joint headquarters level assignments. In such an environment, civilians are the best option. And given the unreliability of the civil service workforce, outsourcing to contractors–who can be fired at any time for any reason–simply makes more sense.