The $127 billion Future Combat Systems is the biggest, most expensive modernization program in the history of the U.S. Army. So why are its components being bought like thousand-dollar PCs?nlos_concept_demonstrator.jpgThat's what Sen. John McCain would like to know. As Inside Defense notes, under Defense Department rules -- specifically, Federal Acquisition Regulation 12 -- everyday, "off-the-shelf" items can be bought with a minimum of paperwork and oversight. Filling out endless forms just to buy new copies of Microsoft Word doesn't make much sense, after all.But neither does applying FAR 12 to Future Combat Systems, or FCS, a program which encompasses everything from fleets of new robotic vehicles to a whole new architecture for battlefield communications to new uniforms for the troops."The FCS system is being included in the fiscal '06 budget as a commercial off-the-shelf item. That means that they are relieved of the obligation to [give] cost and purchasing data to military auditors," Sen. McCain told Army Secretary Francis Harvey during a March 3 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. "Tell me, Mr. Secretary, where might I be able to purchase such a vehicle commercially?""It's not -- it's certainly not off the shelf," Harvey replied. "Senator, you know that. It's a very heavy technology development program.""I really think were going to have to change this designation," answered McCain, who's already planning on holding hearings on FCS.Good idea. The FCS program has already been rejiggered, its costs have inflated, its deadlines have pushed back. And, oh yeah, one of the companies in charge of the program, Boeing, is hemorrhaging top executives because of ethical lapses. Maybe it made some kind of sense, at one point, to apply off-the-shelf rules to FCS, in an attempt to get the lumbering program going. But now, this project needs more oversight, not less.

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