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Acquisition Awards Ceremony

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, The Pentagon, Washington D.C., Friday, November 02, 2012

Thanks very much Frank, I appreciate that very much.  This is a great moment and I really appreciate the opportunity to be here.  And I also appreciate the fact that “Star Spangled Banner” was sung by an Italian – very good.

Frank, this is a great opportunity to be able to participate in this ceremony, but more importantly, to thank you for your leadership as Under Secretary for AT&L [Acquisitions, Technology, and Logistics].  As many of you know I’ve been around this town a long time, and you get a chance to meet a lot of different people in leadership positions, and you know the good ones, and the ones who really roll up their sleeves and do the job, and that’s what Frank Kendall does.  And I really appreciate your leadership, Frank.

And I am also delighted to be able to have a chance here to recognize the exceptional efforts of the three teams being honored today.  It gives me an opportunity to pay tribute not only to them, but to the incredible work that is performed by the Department’s 151,000 acquisition professionals - 151,000 - nobody tell me that this isn’t a big place.  All involved in acquisition, and God bless you.

For the most part this work is done, as we all know, behind the scenes.  A lot of grunt work is involved here.  With little fanfare and generally little public recognition.  You’re usually working behind the scenes and I understand that.  In many ways, as Director of the CIA I was dealing with people who generally get little recognition for what they do.  So as I used to tell them they’re all kind of like silent warriors, and in many ways that’s what you are – silent warriors here at the Pentagon. 

I think what you do is absolutely critical – absolutely critical - to maintaining the strongest military on earth.  We could not do this without your expertise and the work that you do.  The acquisitions community provides our men and women in uniform with the tools that they need to defend this country – the weapons, the equipment, the technology that they depend on every day on the front lines.  

And the American people, in turn, entrust this community with some $400 billion dollars a year – which is as all of you know a majority of the defense budget.  And they entrust you to spend that $400 billion a year wisely, carefully, and responsibly.  That’s our obligation to the American people who provide those funds.  To do that, you’ve got to navigate a very complex process that involves literally hundreds of steps – some that we’ve imposed on ourselves, and a lot that Congress has imposed on us as well.  And working your way through that process, you’ve got to be able to work through the development process, through the procurement process, to sustainment and disposal.

Getting acquisitions right is a really complicated task.  But, I think as Frank often points out, at its heart the mission is very simple:  it’s about supporting the warfighter and it’s about protecting the taxpayer.

But far too often, as everybody in this room knows all too well, those two complimentary goals are often hampered by runaway costs, constant changes, constant revisions, production delays, and a lot of that leaves us with less than what we need, and it usually comes in later than when we need it.

That result, which I have come to understand only too well, is frankly unacceptable to me, as Secretary of Defense, and I know that it’s unacceptable to all of you – especially given the fiscal challenges that we now confront.  We have an even bigger responsibility now as people focus on the budget that we have, to make sure that we are getting the biggest bang for the buck in every system that we’re working on. 

Make no mistake: we must, and I believe we will, continue to improve the way we do business here at the Department.  The work of the men and women we are honoring today provide some great examples of how we can get this done. 

Before I discuss the accomplishments of the teams that we’re recognizing today, I’d like to note that the first team is from Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey – and obviously it’s a state that bore the brunt of the impact from the hurricane. 

On behalf of the Department’s leadership, I’d like you to know, and I’d like all of your colleagues in New Jersey to know, that all of you are in our thoughts and in our prayers, and we stand ready to support you in every way we can, to try to make sure that you and your families get whatever you need – just as you supported our warfighters downrange, we need to do everything we can to support you.  These are tough times, and I know what that’s about.  I’ve been through disasters in my home district, and I know the impact it has on people, and so our hearts go out to you, and so do our prayers.

The Arsenal’s Project Manager Combat Ammunition Systems Team is receiving the David Packard Award for getting critical ammunition into the hands of our warfighters when they needed it – and for doing it using a competitive bidding process that brought costs down and enabled small businesses to compete and to be able to win contracts.  They dramatically reduced the average time from receipt of requirement to delivery – from 18-24 months to just 45-60 days – while also saving the government an estimated $60 million dollars. 

The second team being honored with the Packard Award is the DDG 51 Shipbuilding Program, located right here at the Navy Yard in Washington, DC.  These men and women developed and executed an innovative acquisition approach known as Profit Related to Offer (PRO) for three DDG-51 destroyers.  They created real competition in a situation where none had previously existed, and they awarded $2.1 billion dollars in contracts within six months, and saved the government $298 million dollars. 

Efforts like these ensure that our combatant commanders will have the cutting-edge missile-defense capabilities they need.  They also help us strengthen our vital defense industrial base, which is a top priority for me as Secretary of Defense.

The third team, the Acquisition Rapid Response Medical Team, from Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida, is being awarded the Better Buying Power Efficiency Award. 

Quite simply, the work done by the team - a team of experienced combat medics, research experts, and acquisitions professionals - what it all does is save lives, and that’s probably the most important contribution you can make when it comes to those in battle. 

They successfully developed and fielded pioneering capabilities that are ensuring our troops receive life-saving medical treatments at the point of injury, helping them to survive and be evacuated within the critical “golden hour.”  

The men and women whose lives will be saved because of this team’s hard work and effort may never have the opportunity to thank them personally, so let me on their behalf thank them for that great work. 

Those we honor today embody the creativity and innovation that mark our finest acquisition professionals.  As we continue the work of strengthening the acquisition force for the future, the approaches we celebrate today serve as a model for this Department. 

Leaders can produce and disseminate guidelines – we’re good at that - but at the end of the day we depend on the efforts of individuals who have to roll up their sleeves and strive to develop better ways to serve both the warfighter and the taxpayer.  Men and women like those we honor today.

So I want to thank all of you for ensuring that every time – every time - our brave men and women go into battle, they do so confident that they carry the finest weapons, the finest equipment, our great arsenal of democracy can provide.

Those of us who have dedicated our lives to public service know we’re not going to make a hell of a lot of money in this process, and we know we’re going to endure a hell of a lot of challenges.  It’s the nature of public service.  But there’s one great reward that we get in public service.  It’s the opportunity to provide our fellow citizens, and our children, a more secure future.  And that is the greatest reward you can get - helping our fellow human beings be able to survive and be safe.

All of you have done that, and in life there is no greater satisfaction. 

So on behalf of the Department of Defense, please accept my deepest thanks for your commitment, for your dedication, and for your hard work.  I’ve always said that in life there’s one big test:  it’s whether or not you’ve made a difference.  And for all of you, you’ve made one hell of a difference, and I thank you, I thank all of you. 

Please continue to do the great work that you’re all involved with.

Thank you.

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