Author Topic: COMMENTARY: Canada’s military procurement legacy somehow gets even stupider  (Read 4724 times)

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Offline garb811

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And the problem isn't just confined to centrally managed projects. I know of one local procurement project that is worth a max of $50k that has failed three years in a row, and on the road to the fourth, simply because of the amount of time and effort it takes to get stuff through the system and onto the Buy and Sell site. This year a single number was changed in the SOW and although the process was started back in April, it still took 7 months to get it up on the site. The last word from the contracting office was that even though there were no compliant bidders the first time around and the SOW needed to be "tweaked" again, they were happy with the progress this year because they were two months ahead of last year in getting it up on the site for the first time...

Offline Chris Pook

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Or, alternately, Canadians could build novel things that other people want to buy.

Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands are not designing solely to meet their own requirements.  In fact, often there is no domestic requirement beyond what would classified as a pilot scale launch.
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Offline MJP

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And the problem isn't just confined to centrally managed projects. I know of one local procurement project that is worth a max of $50k that has failed three years in a row, and on the road to the fourth, simply because of the amount of time and effort it takes to get stuff through the system and onto the Buy and Sell site. This year a single number was changed in the SOW and although the process was started back in April, it still took 7 months to get it up on the site. The last word from the contracting office was that even though there were no compliant bidders the first time around and the SOW needed to be "tweaked" again, they were happy with the progress this year because they were two months ahead of last year in getting it up on the site for the first time...

I find that is often the timeline issue a misunderstanding of who is responsible for what than anything else.  In the case of uncompliant bidders we are usually the problem in that we are asking for unicorn, or have in some way slanted the SOW in a way that industry can't fulfill.  Not saying that is the case here, but have worked in and around that low-level procurement for a number of years and the process isn't that difficult.  Once we walk technical authorities through the process and assist in the development of SOW/SOR to meet PSPC and industry guidelines they are generally successful.  Now if your procurement office on base/wing is useless and not helping it slows down the process and usually makes PSPC not want to work with them.

Not saying the process is not the issue but my general experience is that if you understand the process, timelines and who is resp for what, small buys (up to $250K) are relatively simple.  Even higher under $2M for certain things are not an issue if you engage the right people.
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Offline Colin P

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or renovating an armoury and not budgeting for the communication systems within, then blocking the tenants from coming back in as there is no funds to do the comms stuff.

Offline Navy_Pete

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And the problem isn't just confined to centrally managed projects. I know of one local procurement project that is worth a max of $50k that has failed three years in a row, and on the road to the fourth, simply because of the amount of time and effort it takes to get stuff through the system and onto the Buy and Sell site. This year a single number was changed in the SOW and although the process was started back in April, it still took 7 months to get it up on the site. The last word from the contracting office was that even though there were no compliant bidders the first time around and the SOW needed to be "tweaked" again, they were happy with the progress this year because they were two months ahead of last year in getting it up on the site for the first time...

On the flip side, I was involved in a project to replace all the generators on the frigates, and provide 20 years of in service support (maintenance, spares and training). Took about three years to get the industry engagement done, do up the RFP, bid eval and contract award. That was with a delay to implement the new 'Value Proposition' during the pilot phase, and installations are rolling through the fleet.

Took a lot of dedicated effort from team (I was only tagged in for a year around the end of the RFP/contract award, so take no real credit), but basically rolled through all the approval gates and other reviews as per the ideal case.  Kind of an outlier for a project at that dollar value, but normally if you have people that know how the system works that have capacity to push it, you can easily do that with low dollar value procurements.  If you don't know what you are doing, or don't have time to do it, really can't blame the system.

Offline NavyShooter

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One of the problems with the concept of the pistol project being 'made in Canada' is the relatively tiny market that the CAF is, and with the government's generally negative attitude towards civilian firearms ownership, the likelihood of civilian market sales is small.  So, the only buyer will effectively be the CAF, and our market share is smaller than many police departments in the USA...

We should accept that, buy off the shelf, and go from there. 

NS
Insert disclaimer statement here....

:panzer:

Offline PuckChaser

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That would require PSPC and TB to have just a small amount of common sense in their rules.

Offline Baz

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... normally if you have people that know how the system works that have capacity to push it, you can easily do that with low dollar value procurements.  If you don't know what you are doing, or don't have time to do it, really can't blame the system.

This may be part of the problem???

It's a common heard thing from log, admin, and IT people in DND.  You need to understand how the "system" works.  If everyone knew that the system would respond (sort of).

In a project I worked on not only did I need to understand tactics and tasks, plus the software that enabled them, and then the (flight rated) hardware they ran on.  And then to get any of the parts I needed I needed to understand the procurement rules and how to use them to get what was needed.  Then I had to understand the IT rules in order to share required information.

The point is we seem to be putting all of the burden of implementing change on the tactical edge; if they don't take the time to understand everything that must be done then it couldn't have been important enough in the first place.  This doesn't include the major programs, but all of them suffer from BRUF (big requirement up front, it's not a good thing).

In some cases this results in motivated people finding it so hard to accomplish anything they either give up trying or go to an organization where that type of motivation is supported.

Offline Rifleman62

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Or get posted out.
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Offline SeaKingTacco

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This may be part of the problem???

It's a common heard thing from log, admin, and IT people in DND.  You need to understand how the "system" works.  If everyone knew that the system would respond (sort of).

In a project I worked on not only did I need to understand tactics and tasks, plus the software that enabled them, and then the (flight rated) hardware they ran on.  And then to get any of the parts I needed I needed to understand the procurement rules and how to use them to get what was needed.  Then I had to understand the IT rules in order to share required information.

The point is we seem to be putting all of the burden of implementing change on the tactical edge; if they don't take the time to understand everything that must be done then it couldn't have been important enough in the first place.  This doesn't include the major programs, but all of them suffer from BRUF (big requirement up front, it's not a good thing).

In some cases this results in motivated people finding it so hard to accomplish anything they either give up trying or go to an organization where that type of motivation is supported.

I have been more involved in infrastructure projects than procurement projects over my career and the "system" we (the Govt of Canada- not just limited to DND) have is truly awful. I have seen antiquated domestic water systems that regularly expose CF members and their families to boil water advisories go unreplaced because it didnt seem important enough to the battalions of decisionmakers, all the way up to Ottawa, who are all empowered to say no, but nobody is allowed to say yes. I have considerable sympathy for any First Nation trying to navigate the same system. I have seen major and expensive stocks of materiel exposed to dangerous levels of degradation, because bureaucrats argued against spending a comparative pitance of the value of the stock on proper storage facilities.  I have seen lowest bidder contracters being awarded contracts by Ottawa bid evaluation "experts" even in the face of objections of the local SMEs who warned the work would be sub-standard and would cost DND more in long run to fix (we were right, every single time).

This is the result we are getting with our current system that is (supposedly) designed to prevent all of these bad things from happening, but does not. I would say the problem is the system- not the people in the system

Offline MJP

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This may be part of the problem???

It's a common heard thing from log, admin, and IT people in DND.  You need to understand how the "system" works.  If everyone knew that the system would respond (sort of).

In a project I worked on not only did I need to understand tactics and tasks, plus the software that enabled them, and then the (flight rated) hardware they ran on.  And then to get any of the parts I needed I needed to understand the procurement rules and how to use them to get what was needed.  Then I had to understand the IT rules in order to share required information.

The point is we seem to be putting all of the burden of implementing change on the tactical edge; if they don't take the time to understand everything that must be done then it couldn't have been important enough in the first place.  This doesn't include the major programs, but all of them suffer from BRUF (big requirement up front, it's not a good thing).

In some cases this results in motivated people finding it so hard to accomplish anything they either give up trying or go to an organization where that type of motivation is supported.

That is actually a good point and will revisit how we do business to make sure we aren't burdening folks with knowing our aspect overly much and front loading them with timelines and what we need from them.  Generally, though the biggest issues encountered is someone identifies a need and requirement but they figure because they have identified it, it is up to everyone else to make it happen.  Again this is at the low end of the procurement spectrum.  Project staff are a whole other beast!   :D 

Anedoctal but early in my Log career I did up a SOW for an organization I worked for, and I was certainly not the technical expert in what they required.  Long story short we missed a few key requirements even after their SMEs had reviewed it and got something at the end of the day that was less than optimal.  They were very disinterested in doing the hard work at the front end and while I felt bad at the time, it now makes it easier for me to be a bit harder on folks and tell them what they need to do.  My community can certainly do better in guiding people through the process that is for sure and something again I will take onboard. 



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Offline daftandbarmy

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This is the result we are getting with our current system that is (supposedly) designed to prevent all of these bad things from happening, but does not. I would say the problem is the system- not the people in the system

I was talking to a guy a couple of weeks ago who was in a fairly senior role in GM until he quit and changed his career/ life. I asked him why he left and he said 'the bureaucracy was awful. I couldn't get anything done.' The CAF, it seems, is in good company.

Here's an interesting article from a private sector guy. I'd say alot of these principles apply anywhere:

How to Deal with the Worst Organizational Bureaucracy

'At the end of the day, rules and policies are there because they make it possible for business to run smoothly. They may be frustrating, but they’re not going anywhere. But by adjusting the way you deal with the bureaucracy, you’ll be able to more easily navigate the waters—and you’ll make a big difference in your everyday work life.'

https://www.themuse.com/advice/how-to-deal-with-the-worst-organizational-bureaucracy

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Offline Chris Pook

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Quote
Now if your procurement office on base/wing is useless

Quote
if you have people that know how the system works

Quote
You need to understand how the "system" works

How much "churn" is there in the system?  How many people are there in the chain and how long do they stay in position?

"Wyrd bið ful aræd"

Offline Baz

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That is actually a good point and will revisit how we do business to make sure we aren't burdening folks with knowing our aspect overly much and front loading them with timelines and what we need from them.  Generally, though the biggest issues encountered is someone identifies a need and requirement but they figure because they have identified it, it is up to everyone else to make it happen.  Again this is at the low end of the procurement spectrum.  Project staff are a whole other beast!   :D 

Anedoctal but early in my Log career I did up a SOW for an organization I worked for, and I was certainly not the technical expert in what they required.  Long story short we missed a few key requirements even after their SMEs had reviewed it and got something at the end of the day that was less than optimal.  They were very disinterested in doing the hard work at the front end and while I felt bad at the time, it now makes it easier for me to be a bit harder on folks and tell them what they need to do.  My community can certainly do better in guiding people through the process that is for sure and something again I will take onboard.

And that is the paradox.

The tactical edge in the communities in DND I have been exposed to are not particularly good at feeding back into the system.  Amongst many people there is a feeling that "if I tell someone it is a problem (or how to make it better) than it is their problem."  A reluctance to take ownership...

As an illustration, in that same project I would get stopped in the hallway by an operator who would tell me about some issue.  When I asked if they had written it up (which the requirement to do so was in fact a Wing order) they would say that they've told me, and expect that was good enough.

I'm not suggesting we don't need process; I'm suggesting the processes should support what is needed to get done, not the existence of the organizations of those that run them.  What this means is that when someone says they need something, the process responds with "ok, we'll help you define what that is, and then work with you to deliver that."

However, as most things, wishing for what should be won't make it so.  Maybe what is missing in the conversation is how and why did the procurement system end up like it is?  Is it a reluctance to take risk within the procurement system?  Is that reluctance supported by not understanding that inefficient ptocurement processes are probably creating opertional and tactical risk?  Human behaviour would say the reason organizations are behaving how they are is because they are being rewarded to do so; what is that reward and do we have any means of changing it?

I don't have any answers to those questions; I'm sure there are lots of people who might have some insight though...

Offline Colin P

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How I would start my draft of pistol contract:

Only pistols accepted into service of NATO Ally for their general service pistol in the last 15 years will be considered
Each pistol supplied in a plastic lockable case with 5 mags, cleaning rod and instruction manual in French/English.
Order may consist of a single purchase of 25,000 pistols or yearly purchases of batches of 5,000 up to a total of 25,000
Pistols to be be delivered on this date XXXX or if in batches on this date XXXX of every year following the awarding of the contract.
In addition to the pistols the contract will include the following:
One Level 2 holster per pistol capable of being attached by the following method, XXXX 20,000 in OD green and 5,000 in Coyote Brown. Holsters to be delivered with the pistols.
One Dual magazine pouch per pistol with protective flap capable of being attached by the following method, XXXX 20,000 in OD green and 5,000 in Coyote Brown. Holsters to be delivered with the pistols.
500 spare barrels, 1,000 spare parts kits, 200 armourers tool kits, 1,000 spare magazines, 200 armourers manuals
Training team to train up to 200 armourers to instructor level. Training to commence 6 months after awarding of the contract at the places and times of DND choosing.

Competition will be awarded based on combination of price, availability and support for the product. 



Offline Navy_Pete

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I was talking to a guy a couple of weeks ago who was in a fairly senior role in GM until he quit and changed his career/ life. I asked him why he left and he said 'the bureaucracy was awful. I couldn't get anything done.' The CAF, it seems, is in good company.

Here's an interesting article from a private sector guy. I'd say alot of these principles apply anywhere:

How to Deal with the Worst Organizational Bureaucracy

'At the end of the day, rules and policies are there because they make it possible for business to run smoothly. They may be frustrating, but they’re not going anywhere. But by adjusting the way you deal with the bureaucracy, you’ll be able to more easily navigate the waters—and you’ll make a big difference in your everyday work life.'

https://www.themuse.com/advice/how-to-deal-with-the-worst-organizational-bureaucracy

That's key.  I hate the system, but realized a long time ago I can't fight city hall.  I try and learn how to get things done within it, while volunteering suggestions for improvement at every town hall, survey, etc.

Got lucky though and got to see learn under a group with 15-20+ years of experience each.  They knew what worked, where the grey was, and how to bash the square peg through when needed.  People like that need to be given the chance to mentor, but we do smart things like overwork them (so they don't have time to mentor) and not bring in any replacements until after they retire (even if we know they are leaving in a few years).

Some of those key jobs you really need a stable civvy to have that knowledge; it's okay to mix in some military folks but some of these positions need far longer than a posting to build up the contacts/experience required to get the job done.

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Processes should not be the end: it is a mean to an end. 

Often, organizations will pride themselves in following a process to a T but the end result is atrocious.  I see processes as guidelines that should be adhered to:  when the process gets in the way to a successful result, it should be accepted (and encouraged) to navigate around the process, with proper justification.

Offline standingdown

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Processes should not be the end: it is a mean to an end. 

Often, organizations will pride themselves in following a process to a T but the end result is atrocious.  I see processes as guidelines that should be adhered to:  when the process gets in the way to a successful result, it should be accepted (and encouraged) to navigate around the process, with proper justification.

Hey Max,

Let's say you or one of your guys/gals went down in enemy territory. Wouldn't you rather have something akin to a C8?

Online SupersonicMax

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Honestly?  I don’t think my 1 weapon of any kind will make a difference against a section or platoon. I would rather invest in capabilities that will prevent this from happening in the first place.

Offline standingdown

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For sure, and I want that for you guys too.

I'm thinking more along the lines of going down on the first couple rotos of IMPACT etc. I remember reading that some US pilots are now starting to get modified carbines as part of their survival kits. I know you're probably screwed regardless, but I think they owe our servicemen and women a fighting chance.

Offline Haggis

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Often, organizations will pride themselves in following a process to a T but the end result is atrocious.  I see processes as guidelines that should be adhered to:  when the process gets in the way to a successful result, it should be accepted (and encouraged) to navigate around the process, with proper justification.
In procurement and other activities through which public money is spent, the process is often constrained by laws and regulations making workarounds illegal.  Unfortunately, the adherence to process is what protects people from prosecution regardless of the outcome of the process.
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Online Oldgateboatdriver

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True enough, Haggis.

But here's the rub: Governments by a political party that has a clear majority in Parliament can change laws as easily as you can change a diaper (yeah! It does stink just the same, but can and sometimes has to be done  ;D). So if the process as constrained by law doesn't work, then change the damn process by introducing a bill in parliament and pushing it through to fix what's wrong with the damn thing. But don't blame it on being somehow "constrained" by law.

Reality is that various governments did not change the process in the past because they like that process and the useless civil service work associated with it and the capacity for pork barrelling.

Offline Colin P

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Very true, i have seen and experienced major policy shift caused by re-writing Act (which are currently getting rewritten and likely again when the government changes) People tend to think law is written in stone, it's not and can be changed with political will.

Offline Navy_Pete

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Processes should not be the end: it is a mean to an end. 

Often, organizations will pride themselves in following a process to a T but the end result is atrocious.  I see processes as guidelines that should be adhered to:  when the process gets in the way to a successful result, it should be accepted (and encouraged) to navigate around the process, with proper justification.

The process actually has a number of workarounds built in, but needs you to do some work to properly justify that it, with a lot of latitude built in for real emergencies. But it also takes the approach that 'your lack of planning doesn't constitute an emergency on my part' so not building in enough time for the bid to be posted, TB approval etc is generally a personal problem.

You have to know it really well to understand what you can do and when, as well the willingness to take on some risk at times to get things done. You can't figure out where all the grey is without a fair bit of experience though, so frequent postings in/out are real problems.

Having said that, writing impossible RFPs, trying to single source things that fail the test, putting in clauses that make companies not want to bid and all kinds of other things that can happen on our end that are completely our own fault, but are blamed on the system.  It can be a challenge to get things contracted to start with, but we frequently make a dogs breakfast of it in the drafting phase, so take peoples' complaints about the procurement system with a grain of salt.

Most of what we do is actually policy driven (vice legislation) so you don't even need to go through parliament.  It flows down from TB/PSPC/DND policy, which in my experience is a lot less transparent than legislation and has more politics involved to get changed.  Goes back to little internal empires and my desire for some (figurative) Genghis Khan style oversight/streamlining on the procurement process.  The general concept is actually pretty straightforward, it's all the many layers of overlapping oversight and hoops to jump through, where far too many people with no skin in the game have the ability to say no or maybe later. There are also far too many middlemen in the process that do nothing but review/reword as gatekeepers, so by the time a submission gets to TBS, it says different things than the original draft (and not necessarily accurate).