In the National Post, John Ivison explains why he thinks the new Auditor-General will have a field day examining the F-35 project:
Alan Williams is a retired assistant deputy minister, responsible for procurement at DND in the early years of the F-35 project, and recently he shared his thoughts on the shortcomings of the tendering process with the Office of the Auditor-General. “The whole process was twisted to suit the needs of the military, with the acknowledgment and support of ministers. It was totally unacceptable,” he said.
He thinks the government should write a new statement of requirement and put the whole project out to an open competition.
“You could run a competition today and have it done within two years,” he said. “You’d have to be blind and deaf not to know how much this project has gone off the rails.”
He said that in his experience, maintenance costs on sophisticated military equipment run at two to three times acquisition costs. He believes the eventual cost to taxpayers for the F-35s is likely to be $25- to $30-billion — double the current government estimate.
It’s quite possible that the F-35 purchase was a bad idea, and that the military rigged the competition from the start. Not inevitable, but possible. The criticism of the military procurement process in the article is a bit over-done, especially here in Canada where almost any military spending has to be assessed primarily for political advantage and regional distribution before the actual military benefit or value to the taxpayers is taken into account. Every major project’s specifications are “tweaked” to meet certain overriding criteria.
To oversimplify, if the item in question is available from two different suppliers that provide effectively the same function, tacking on a secondary requirement that only one of the suppliers can readily meet distorts the process to favour that supplier. It’s not usually that blatant, but if it happens when the item in question is as simple as network cable or packaging material or socks, you can be certain that it happens for multi-billion dollar purchases whose specifications are the size of paperback novels.