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Managing US Defense Acquisition

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 February 2015

Abstract

Management in government differs fundamentally from private sector management, the more so in defense, which differs from other US government missions in that very large sums are spent on high-technology systems and equipment to meet the unknowable contingencies of an uncertain future. Because of technological complexity, the difficulties of program selection, contracting, and oversight exceed those in other parts of government. An underappreciated set of problems aggravates these difficulties, notably a lack of metrics for assessing the performance of military systems. In the absence of such metrics, and given the elastic meanings attached to national security, civilian officials have been unable to exercise effective oversight of defense acquisition, leaving discretionary choices by military leaders largely unchecked. For such reasons, common prescriptions for acquisition reform, such as adoption of “proven business practices,” are unrealistic. Meaningful reform would begin by increasing the influence of civilian officials over acquisition decisions and reducing that of the armed forces.

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Copyright © The Author(s) 2013. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Business History Conference. All rights reserved.

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