Fighting Words

Greg Grant's recent article, "Fighting Folly," (May 1) contains poor research, inaccurate reporting and outright falsehoods. Clearly, Mr. Grant either did not consult with Army officials who are familiar with the program, or chose to disregard their input if he did consult.

Mr. Grant quoted three different cost estimates for the Future Combat Systems program without providing any context or explanation. He failed to distinguish between constant dollars, inflation-adjusted dollars and estimates that include the entire life-cycle costs of the program.

There are five factors involved in the increased cost of the FCS program. Four of these (cost of previously deferred systems, additional technology/reliability maturation and experimentation, spin-out requirements, and program extension) were the direct result of program restructuring. The fifth factor (revised/updated cost estimates, such as actual cost increases) was the least significant.

Many of these changes resulted from the Army accepting advice from numerous reviews of Office of the Secretary of Defense, Congress, the Government Accountability Office and others. Restructuring in 2004 minimized developmental risk, which means we are putting FCS technologies into the hands of front-line troops sooner rather than later. The upshot is that delivery of a full-scale FCS Brigade Combat Team got pushed back to 2016; however, the delivery of FCS technologies and equipment to the current force actually was accelerated. Mr. Grant attacked the Army's use of a lead systems integrator on the FCS program, citing GAO sources that claimed the Army was "no longer able to impartially oversee taxpayers' investment in FCS, so the Office of the Secretary of Defense must step in." This assertion simply and demonstrably is not true.

The government program manager is responsible for the LSI's performance. Therefore, the government, not the LSI, retains authority over requirements, de-signs, specifications, as well as oversight of make-or-buy decisions and subcontracting done by the LSI. To date, outside and internal reviews have validated the Army's risk assessments and found nothing of substance that would indicate mismanagement of the program. The Army changed the FCS contract in 2005 into a Federal Acquisition Regulation-based contract.

Mr. Grant relied on out-of-date studies and anonymous sources to question the underlying operational rationale for FCS. He quotes from a 2002 RAND study and a 2002 article in Army magazine. The Army has long recognized that the 21st century security environment will be highly fluid and unpredictable. The Army must improve in irregular warfare, where information is the premium asset. FCS vehicles are designed for survivability and lethality as well as to be nodes of an advanced network that will provide soldiers and leaders with near real-time situational awareness. Better situational awareness is crucial in current operations, where knowledge of improvised explosive devices or roadside bombs can mean, literally, the difference between life and death.

The Army is using lessons from current operations to inform FCS developments. The assertion that "surprise ambushes" somehow negate the value of FCS vehicles shows a clear lack of understanding about the limitations of the current force and our progress in armor developments.

The Defense Department employs a more adaptive, modern-day technological readiness standard than GAO. We believe that Defense's standard is appropriate for the 21st century and for soldiers in harm's way because it accelerates technology delivery while deliberately mitigating development risk. In most ways, GAO continues to analyze acquisition programs based on Cold War-era stovepiped procedures and processes while the Army is utiliz- ing a system-of-systems approach that will deliver faster results to our soldiers.

Rickey E. Smith
Army Capabilities
Integration Center-Forward
Arlington, Va.

Safety and Service at FAA

You are to be commended on a fine article about the Federal Aviation Administration and Marion Blakey ("Fearless Flier," June 1). While generally well researched and written, there are two substantial inaccuracies.

First, the privatization of flight service stations is a near disaster. The Transportation Department's own inspector general has faulted aspects of the change as overly aggressive. The privatized system has been plagued with lost flight plans, long delays while planes are waiting on runways with engines running, briefers unfamiliar with the airspace they are covering, and critical weather updates that are not available to pilots already in the air.

Flight service is an important safety function, but there is growing documentation that it is no longer performing that function at anything approaching the pre-A-76 level. The new contract may be "saving" money, but if the savings means poor to unsatisfactory user service and degraded aviation safety, are there any real savings?

Second, Administrator Blakey's battle to reshape FAA financing is misdirected at best. Her proposals call for "user fees," but the explanation of these new fees shows something much different. Much of the system she leads already is funded by user fees in the form of special aviation fuel taxes (every flight, by any type of aircraft, funds FAA) or by ticket and licensing fees. The Government Accountability Office has determined that this current financing structure is adequate, and does provide a reliable source of income.

The administrator's financing proposal would chiefly shift funding from one class of users to another. The shift would benefit commercial airlines, which are the most intensive users of FAA services. Smaller and less well financed corporate and private aviation-which are proposed to pay user fees for flights that do not even use FAA services-would be hurt. This is much more of a big business versus the little guy battle, rather than a privatization battle. Administrator Blakey represents big business in this debate, and your reading public should know this.

John O'Meara
Moorestown, N.J.

Memory Loss

Your coverage of the Rudy Giuliani speech in "Rude Awakening" (June 1) interested me greatly, though perhaps not as much as your reaction to its implications.

The existence of certain government employees whose duties could be called "essential" is not an argument for the essentiality of all government employees. And "citizen-customer demand" should be no guide for government attention.

As shocking as this might seem to some, the American public is not the government's customer. There has been a certain opportunism in the expansion of the federal workforce in the first place; we have reached this point only through a slow increase in government "services" that were authorized by past Congresses for reasons that, though politically expedient at the time, are now forgotten. Yet the employees hired during those times are still here, and my educated guess is that, although their job duties have changed dramatically with the times, they have no intention of leaving.

The idea that we will lose "institutional memory" with the upcoming retirements is likewise no guide for the retention of federal employees. Since I have entered federal service, my co-workers and I have encountered the proverbial experienced retirement-age employee who won't share his secrets with anyone else. Similarly, we have seen experienced workers leave, only to be rehired as contractors. Yet upon their return (sometimes to the same desk) they are prohibited from working on their same projects due to conflict-of-interest considerations. Much institutional memory, then, is being lost already; a rash of retirements does not seem to be particularly dire.

When we ask how the rules might be changed in order to compel an employee to share his secrets with others, we will realize that the government personnel system contains a fundamental flaw. There is simply no way to recruit and retain talent without a means of rewards and punishments to hold over the heads of federal workers.

There must be a way in which the government can reduce its personnel without the sense that any reduction entails a threat to the entire workforce. Until this illogic is overcome, the only logical alternative that remains, then, is the constant expansion of the federal workforce. It does not follow that a reduction in force means a reduction in effectiveness or efficiency. A reduction in force only means a reduction in force. Giuliani's speech is a good point at which the American public (which in-cludes Giuliani and staffers at Government Executive) should begin to distinguish between those government services that are vital and those that are merely luxuries.

Ben Abel
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