DOD Needs Cost-conscious Acquisitions Employees, Official Says
By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2012 The Defense Department acquisitions, technology and logistics office will need some of the brightest, most cost-conscious workers asking tough, introspective questions to meet the strategic and budgetary demands of the future, the office’s acting director said here yesterday.
In remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Frank Kendall outlined the office’s way forward under the administration’s 10-year military strategy guidance and amid shrinking budget forecasts.
Kendall is President Barack Obama’s nominee to succeed Ashton B. Carter -- now the deputy defense secretary -- as undersecretary of defense for acquisitions, technology and logistics.
“Acquisitions is not a science,” he said. “There is a lot of art to this. We do very hard things that have never been done before. There’s always going to be a learning process, but until we start examining carefully the impact of our policies, we’re not going to learn enough from our experiences to put good things in place.”
Kendall said many of the department’s acquisitions problems stem from a culture that hasn’t emphasized cost consciousness enough. He said a fighter pilot recently told him that every September, his unit would fly around burning up fuel, because any fuel left when the new budget year started Oct. 1 would be seen as excess, and the fuel allocation would then be cut for the next year.
“That’s not the kind of culture we want,” he added.
Kendall said he has spoken with all the service chiefs to elevate the abilities, characteristics and prestige of the acquisitions workforce.
“It is, in many cases, rocket science,” he said. “It takes true professionalism to make this work. Leadership qualities have everything to do with success or failure.”
Also, Kendall said, he is working with the Joint Staff to make acquisitions requirements specific, translatable, and feasible. “Sometimes requirements are so vague, there is no way to translate it onto a contract,” he said, “so then industry defines what it means.”
When the administration’s proposed cuts in projected defense spending rose to $487 billion over 10 years, Pentagon officials had to take a new look at the way forward, Kendall said. “We had to step back at that point, because the cuts were so deep, and look at our fundamental strategy,” he added.
Kendall said Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, believe strongly that the right approach is to build toward a goal, as opposed to just making cuts. “So we asked the question, ‘What do we want the Defense Department to look like in 2020?’” he said.
That question was answered with the new military strategy guidance unveiled last month that outlines a smaller, more agile and flexible military focused on the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions. For the acquisitions and technology picture, Kendall said, it is a military that no longer spends billions of dollars on major weapons systems that are seriously over budget and off schedule.
Because the president’s fiscal 2013 budget proposal is to be presented to Congress next week, Kendall said, he would not go into specifics about it in yesterday’s forum.
“There probably will be some fine tuning,” he said, “but I think we got it about right, and we have good evidence for the choices we made. They were painful. Some of them were extremely painful. But we tended to emphasize the positive.”
The administration’s budget proposal maintains all recapitalization and modernization requirements, Kendall said, and “all the programs we still have, we very much need.”
The acquisitions office was prepared for the cuts because of the work it started in 2010 when then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced streamlining measures. Panetta has carried those measures through since succeeding Gates, Kendall said.
Kendall’s highest priority, he said, is to strengthen the federal acquisitions workforce. Other priorities include strengthening the military industrial base, preserving technical superiority and buying into only affordable and dependable programs.
“We have to move forward,” he said. “The times are such that to do anything else would be irresponsible.”