WT Business Beat

By Nick Wakeman

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Coverage on target

The mainstream media and the Washington Post in particular catch a lot of grief for the way they cover government contracting. They focus on the negative, make overly broad generalizations and lack context, or so the complaints say.

One issue I've had is that the mainstream press doesn't do enough explanatory journalism, where they take the time and space to break down an issue.

But on Dec. 7, the Washington Post did a great job with a long piece on the Future Combat System. Both with texts and graphics it explained the program and what it is trying to accomplish. It did not skirt any of the tough challenges and complaints that the program has engendered, about cost overruns and technical feasibility. It gave supporters and opponents a voice, but it didn't try to persuade.

It is worth taking the time to read it.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Dec 10, 2007 at 9:54 AM

Reader Comments

Mon, Dec 17, 2007 Nick Wakeman VA

thanks for the comment. I particularly agree with your comments about the role of the LSI. But I'm not sure the government would be better at running the show.

Tue, Dec 11, 2007 Michael Lent DC

It was a good article, especially for its explanation of the breadth and complexity and stakes involved.But the treatment of cost and schedule status was limp. The scope of work and the baselines have been so altered and jiggled that you can't rely on anyone's claims. In private, fans and critics tend to agree that FCS is late and chewing up money at a much greater rate than ever visualized. In public, this aspect is now soft-pedaled by many out of well intended concern for the Army, which has placed all its chips for new battle infrastructure on this one program of programs.Also, the article did skirt the LSI issue, although it was mentioned. Analysis of large-scale LSIs, including Deepwater and even the early FCS years, suggests that it doesn't seem to work well enough in the government's interest, and tends to stoke the worst fears about contractors. It took extraordinary perseverence by Sen. John McCain to arm-wrestle the Army to agree to guard against potential self-dealing by the two LSI companies and to convert the contract from a form meant for non-Defense firms (so called Other Transaction Authority). The restructured contract, among other things, exposes the program and books to the kind of audits that are essential to keep the program not only straight, but also credible to all concerned. An uncomfortable reality for FCS is that to the extent it is only transluscent and the Army appears to be too influenced by the LSI, it will invite Congress to stride right in and perform oversight in its own way.

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