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Britain has long prided itself as a military innovator in groundbreaking technology and novel business processes.
Now, London is considering the extraordinary step of outsourcing its defense acquisition to save money and improve performance.
The return of Tory leadership to Britain opened the gates to more privatization and outsourcing to realize a campaign pledge to cut government jobs and establish a government-owned, contractor-operated approach to defense acquisition and procurement.
UK Defence Secretary Phil Hammond last week announced a final series of study contracts to help leaders decide next year whether to adopt the novel approach or retain a government-controlled system.
Supporters say the profit motive will spur greater innovation, accountability and efficiency as evidenced by outsourcing Defence Ministry back-office support and even its Atomic Weapons Establishment. Critics say it’s too risky to justify the potential benefit by putting corporate foxes in charge of a government hen house.
What’s clear is DoD is interested and concerned.
Two US administrations have worked to regain acquisition authority that had been outsourced to industry, and the Obama White House sees defense acquisition as “inherently governmental.”
US officials are open to new British ideas but DoD acquisition chief Frank Kendall established a task force to better understand what Britain is doing and its implications on an intimate government-to-government armaments relationship.
Britain’s willingness to explore all options to improve weapons and services purchasing is laudable, but officials must preserve the government’s ability and expertise to manage its suppliers, including the new corporate team it may hire to oversee its acquisition system.