Today's New York Times had a long story about the military's inability to acquire enough safe armored vehicles for the troops in Iraq. There are many different problems and there's plenty of blame to go around, but here's a short version of what's going on with Humvees:
The Defense Department continues to rely on just one small company in Ohio to armor Humvees. And the company, O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt, has waged an aggressive campaign to hold onto its exclusive deal even as soaring rush orders from Iraq have been plagued by delays. The Marine Corps, for example, is still awaiting the 498 armored Humvees it sought last fall, officials told The Times.
In January, when military officials tried to speed production by buying the legal rights to the armor design so they could enlist other venders to help, O'Gara demurred, calling the move a threat to its "current and future competitive position," according to e-mail records obtained from the Army....
The Army has dropped the matter for now, General O'Reilly said, adding that he hoped to have other companies making armor by next April.
So who's at fault here? Possibly everybody:
Robert F. Mecredy, president of the aerospace and defense group at Armor Holdings, the parent company of O'Gara, ... said ... the company has proved it can do the Humvee work and he blamed the Defense Department for delays. Military officials concede that it sometimes took months for requests made in Iraq to filter through the Defense Department.... the company stresses that the Pentagon keeps changing its orders: from 3,600 in the fall of 2003 to 8,105 last year to more than 10,000 today.
Asked why the Marine Corps is still waiting for the 498 Humvees it ordered last year, O'Gara acknowledged that it told the Marines it was backed up with Army orders, and has only begun filling the Marines' request this month. But the company says the Marine Corps never asked it to rush.
The Marine Corps denies this, but acknowledges that it did not get the money to actually place the order until this February.
What a mess?
So here's my question: What happened to the Donald Rumsfeld we heard so much about during the first Bush term -- the no-nonsense tough guy who takes no bullshit? Wasn't he the guy who was going to "transform" the Pentagon, including its methods of procurement? At one point he was a rock star and a sex god -- he had clout. What did he do with it? Why isn't this process any better?
What's the point of having a defense secretary who is (a) a former private-sector CEO and (b) a ballbuster if, at moments like this, he's not going to rattle some cages until things that have to get done get done?
And what about his boss? Why doesn't this matter to him? For instance, if it was believed that O'Gara's refusal to share the armor design was endangering troops, why didn't Bush call O'Gara's CEO himself and say Hello, this is the President of the United States and I think a little flexibility on your part will prevent a certain number of soldiers from coming home in body bags?
Why couldn't he have done that, assuming it mattered to him?