Vanguard Magazine

Dec/Jan 2015

Preserving capacity, General Tom Lawson, Chief of the Defence Staff, Keys to Canadian SAR

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T ThE LaST woRD 46 DECEMBER 2014/JANUARY 2015 philippe Lagassé is an associate professor of public and international affairs at the University of ottawa, where he researches defence policy and the executive in Canada. Third-party reviews are about to become standard practice in Ca- nadian defence procurement. As part of the government's De- fence Procurement Strategy, third-party reviewers will perform a challenge function over the high level mandatory requirements for projects that exceed $100 million. The third-party reviewers will report to the Deputy Minister of National Defence and will be drawn from "military, scientific and policy communities." As an academic, I cannot help but wonder whether this description includes university professors. Although they are not specifically mentioned, professors may be asked to serve as third-party reviewers. Indeed, two academics were involved in the reset of the CF-18 replacement. Professor Ken Norrie of McMaster University sat as an independent mem- ber on the deputy minister governance committee of the National Fighter Procurement Secretariat, and I served as an independent reviewer of the evaluation of options conducted by the Royal Ca- nadian Air Force. However, it is equally possible that academics will be largely ex- cluded from performing this function. There are several reasons why government might prefer not to call upon university research- ers. Above all, it could be argued that academics are too wedded to theoretical questions, whereas procurement review work requires a practical orientation. In addition, academics may not be especially familiar with how government operates and what norms surround policymaking and proper discretion. There may be an understand- able concern about academics acting as stubborn obstacles or loose canons. Notwithstanding these critiques, my own admittedly biased view is that academics do bring useful skills to third-party reviews of defence procurement, and that government would benefit from inviting more professors to serve in this role. An important part of academic research involves questioning assumptions and established expertise in one's field. Disagree- ment and continual debate are the norm and consensus is dif- ficult to reach. This also means that academics are expected to stay abreast of the latest research and findings in their area of study. Debate and disagreement are a central part of policymaking as well, though those officials who are expected to question and challenge may not have the same degree of depth and knowledge in a subject area as academics do. In fact, those who are at the forefront of the government's inter- nal challenge function – officials within central agencies – may lack a strong background in the subject matter they are examining. Add- ing academics to the mix both augments the degree of debate and disagreement, and ensures that these exchanges are being fuelled by individuals who are considered experts in their field, and who are up to date on the most recent research in their area. Criticism is another constant in academia. Professors are regu- larly called upon to review each others' work and to identify de- ficiencies in their peers' research. It is equally important for an academic to be aware of the criticisms that can be levelled at their own research and to think of ways to address it. Professors who specialize in a policy-related field, moreover, often critique the government's efforts in that area and can quickly surmise how their fellow academics will criticize policy decisions and initiatives. Encouraging this critical bent in reviews of military acquisi- tions helps anticipate how programs will be critiqued and on what grounds. This in turn allows legitimate problems to be addressed, and it can help government offer better explanations of what is being done and why. Indeed, because they are usually on the out- side looking in on defence procurements, academics may have a stronger sense of how a project will be picked apart by those who do not benefit from inside knowledge of why an acquisition is proceeding the way it is. The Canadian government now recognizes that greater open- ness and transparency are required to ensure successful defence procurements. However, achieving openness and transparency is difficult in Canada, whose Westminster inheritance has arguably overvalued secrecy and silence. A good reason not to disclose in- formation can always be found. Defence academics, on the other hand, are hungry for more openness and transparency. They recognize that greater access to officers and officials, and to documents and data, are required to produce better research on contemporary Canadian defence matters. Accordingly, academics are more likely to advocate for disclosure and to question why information should be kept con- fidential. Having academics as part of third-party reviews, there- fore, will hopefully advance the principles of openness and trans- parency in defence procurement. None of the characteristics I have described here are unique to academics. Many serving and retired officials within government and the armed forces have them, as do subject matter experts from industry and other professions, such as law and accounting. But academia does tend to breed an abundance of individuals who are particularly prone to challenging and critiquing, and especially fond of openness and transparency from government. At the very least, this suggests that academia is a good and fertile ground from which to draw third-party reviewers in the future. An academic voice in third-party reviews

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