Editorial: Army review not all it can be

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The Army of One is struggling to get to an Army of 80,000-the recruits it hopes to sign this year. U.S. casualties in Iraq-1,768 deaths, 13,559 injuries-don't make it an easy sell. For the all-volunteer Army, recruitment advertising is mission critical. So it's remarkable how the Army has bungled its search for an ad agency.

Less than two months after the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003, the Army recruited advertising consultancy Jones Lundin Beals to manage its periodic, mandated review. This gave the Army plenty of time to choose an agency before a four-year contract with Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett was to end in June 2004.

The war delayed a request for proposals and the Army gave Burnett an extension in early '04; that was reasonable. It finally began a review in June 2004. By last December, it had finalists-Burnett and five others-but hadn't picked an agency, so the Army extended Burnett through June 2005.

In April, the Army scrubbed the review, citing unexplained "inconsistencies in the evaluation approach," and said it would begin anew. It expects to hire an agency by year end. As of late last week, it hadn't issued a new RFP. What a snafu of a review.

The Army this month extended Burnett through year end; the shop will work for 18 months after its competitive-bid contract ended. A watchdog group, the Project on Government Oversight, has blasted the continual extensions, saying they keep taxpayers from getting the best deal.

The Army in the second half of `05 is authorized to spend up to $250 million on advertising. That's an annualized $500 million-more than double the $200 million a year the Army has been contracting (and way above the initial $95 million budget when Burnett won the 2000 review).

But it's not only about money. It's about effectiveness and accountability. The Army has a recruitment problem. It needs an agency to deliver the best, smartest communication to attract the best recruits. Is that Burnett? Who knows. A competitive review is not only mandated by law, it is imperative. This review has been a fiasco. That's no way to run an Army.

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