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Acquisition Reform Is Making Rapid Progress, Defense Official Says

May 14, 2021 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

To defend the nation, we must reform the Defense Department and more effectively work with allies and partners, a DOD official said.

A woman standing at a lectern speaks.
Cummings Remarks
Stacy A. Cummings, performing the duties of the under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, speaks at the McAleese FY2022 Defense Programs conference, May 13, 2021.
Photo By: DOD Screenshot
VIRIN: 210513-O-DO439-001

Stacy A. Cummings, performing the duties of the under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, spoke yesterday at the McAleese FY2022 Defense Programs conference.

To keep pace with advanced and persistent threats from China and Russia, the department must go further in acquisition and sustainment reform, she said. 

Over time, the acquisition system evolved into what some people have called "a one size fits all model," she said, explaining that it used a checklist approach for system parts, a lot of oversight and it didn't really enable speed.

A tank rolls through the desert.
Tank Test
Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 194th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, move an M1 Abrams Tank to the firing line to test-fire their weapons at Udairi Range, Kuwait, May 3, 2021.
Photo By: Army Spc. Juan Carlos Izquierdo
VIRIN: 210502-A-QY770-1003A

From the start of a program to initial operating capability, where systems were tested, took nearly eight years, she noted.

As a result, the department looked to transform the acquisition process and a lot was accomplished in the last year. "Our goal was to deliver a defense acquisition system that is flexible, that allows for tailoring, and empowers critical thinking and common sense decision making, with the outcome being an acceleration of delivery and timelines," she said.

During 2020, a record 13 acquisition policies were published, she said. "This has been, at least in my experience, among the most transformational changes to acquisition policy in years, and we really anticipate this change in policy having really sustaining, enduring and positive effects to the department for years to come."

A ship is docked to a pier.
Port Arrival
The Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship USS Patriot, forward-deployed to Fleet Activities Sasebo, Japan, arrives at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni for a scheduled port visit May 12, 2021.
Photo By: Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Darien Wright
VIRIN: 210512-M-SZ243-1083C

Cummings said the redesign in policy can be broken down into six discrete pathways that are meant to be used individually or together, specifically tailored to the capabilities that the program team has been asked to deliver to the warfighter. They are:

  • Urgent capability acquisition
  • The middle tier of acquisition
  • Major capability acquisition, which is the traditional milestone-based approach 
  • Software acquisition 
  • Defense business systems 
  • Acquisition of services. 

Cummings said she didn't want this to be a series of policy documents that people would pick up and read from cover to cover. "What I was really looking for is that it would be interactive, and you would use the policy to help inform decision making exactly when you need it."

Rapid delivery of software upgrades used for weapons and communications systems and making them cyber secure is another priority of the department, she said.

A service member operates a hand-held electronic device.
Unmanned Aircraft System
An Air Commando with the 1st Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron learns how to fly an unmanned aircraft system at the FieldWerx Makerspace in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., April 6, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Miranda Mahoney
VIRIN: 210406-O-HK519-1306A

Cummings also touched on the need to address any future shortages of medical supplies, microelectronics and critical minerals, by working closely with interagency partners like the Department of Commerce, the Department of Treasury and the Department of Health and Human Services.

In the future, DOD will be using artificial intelligence and machine learning to better manage its sprawling supply chain and reduce vulnerabilities, she added.