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LaPlante: Remember Occam’s Razor

Posted by Colin Clark on

Bill LaPlante

Bill LaPlante

PENTAGON: My favorite line from Bill LaPlante’s final interview before he sheds the title of head of Air Force acquisition: “We used to suck, and now we don’t suck as much.”

That could be the overall assessment one gives to Pentagon acquisition these days, though it might not be entirely fair. But LaPlante was only talking about cost estimating and the Air Force’s should-cost experiment, so we won’t draw that conclusion.

That line says much about LaPlante, who brought a refreshing brashness to his job shepherding weapons through the Pentagon and Air Force’s acquisition systems. On the question of why Laplante and his Army counterpart, Heidi Shyu, announce their departures at pretty much the same time, he urged reporters to use that shining principle of logic known as Occam’s Razor. Pick the simplest explanation and go with it. Two people happened to make a decision at roughly the same time. Nothing more. Which is pretty much how we reported things, though we did note this leaves a big hole in the Obama administration’s defense acquisition team.

One thing LaPlante said several times was how surprised he was at the reception he got simply for being an official who had been confirmed by the Senate. And that is the truth. The Obama administration will probably find it impossible to replace LaPlante and Shyu with people who can be vetted and confirmed before the end of the administration. So the Air Force and Army will be left with competent leadership but not with people who have the heft of a pat on the back from the Senate. That will make it more difficult for them to make big and/or risky decisions, which is also part of the reason LaPlante stayed as long as he did.

In a roundtable with reporters he told he us stayed to make sure the $85 billion Long Range Strike Bomber contract was awarded and properly communicated to the taxpayers. He seemed pretty confident that the award to Northrop Grumman would stand up to Government Accountability Office review.

He didn’t make much news, though he did says this: “OCX is going bad, by the way.” He offered no details and Air Force officials declined to answer any questions. You can read about some of the problems here.

LaPlante also dismissed a story that the Air Force is considering buying F-15s, F-16s or even F-18s to fill in for F-35s as the production ramps up.

What do you think?