Acquisitions Chief Seeks System Improvements, Not Reform
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 7, 2013 The Pentagon’s acquisitions chief today discussed the state of the defense acquisitions system and methods the Defense Department, working with industry, can use to improve it.
“I put out a document a few months ago … the defense acquisitions system first annual report,” Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. It came out, he said, without much fanfare, but has gained a lot of reaction and responses from many communities.
“The intent was to put some data on the table and start looking at how we’re actually doing by a number of different metrics,” Kendall explained. “And to get a feel for who’s doing better than some other people, and why.”
Kendall said rather than discussing acquisition reform, a better way to describe it would be acquisition improvement.
“[This] forces you to confine your thinking to specific things you can do that will make a difference,” he said. “I don’t think, frankly, that you can wave away the entire system and start over, and expect to have something that looks very, very different from what you have today.”
The types of acquisition decisions the Defense Department has to make, he said, involving the approval of weapons systems and contracts, won’t change.
“The other thing that’s true about acquisition is that it’s incredibly complex.
“It encompasses so many different things that have to be done well to get good outcomes,” he continued, “that it’s very, very difficult to pull out and correlate specific factors.”
Kendall noted that acquisition reform isn’t a new problem by any means, and he used a specific program to illustrate his point.
“The program had an innovative, but unconventional design and was criticized as extravagant,” he said. “It included a multi-mission requirement that spanned both irregular warfare and high-intensity warfare putting conflicting demands on the design.”
That program also “included the use of exotic materials which delayed construction and raised cost,” Kendall added. The political establishment, he said, was divided over the need and cost and contracts were spread around a number of states for political purposes.
In addition, Kendall noted the cost growth was excessive, which caused schedule slips and program instability.
“The Congress was alarmed at the cost and scheduled delays, and conducted inquiries,” he said. “And [they] railed at the waste that was going on in the program.”
While some may have speculated Kendall was referring to the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program, he said he was referring to the process that built the first six frigates for the U.S. Navy in 1794.
“Sound familiar?” he asked. “So there’s been a lot of acquisition reform -- not just in our lifetime. People [have] talked about it for a very, very long time.”
Kendall said it’s his “firm belief” there are very simple factors that drive outcomes in acquisition -- professionalism on the government and industry sides, as well as leadership and hard work.
Finally he said, is “a measure of courage” to do the hard thing when it’s more expedient to go ahead and spend money.
Kendall said DOD is doing “hundreds of things to try and improve” its acquisition processes.
“You have to attack on a lot of fronts, and get a lot of things right. It’s very detailed, difficult work.”
Kendall also noted the next update for DODI 5000.02, the source document that provides guidance on structuring acquisitions programs, will be available soon and will emphasize the tailoring of acquisition programs more than previous versions.
“We show people multiple models of how you can structure an acquisition program depending upon what the product is,” he said, noting an update was necessary because of laws which needed to be implemented.
Kendall said his team is also working with industry to help reduce overhead, which he said are-- “things that are adding cost, but not adding value.”
DOD’s acquisition professionals “want to get to the specifics,” Kendall said. “It’s not about reform, it’s about improvement and specific things we can do to move us forward and in the right direction.”