Improving Systems Acquistion: A Cooperative Effort

Not long ago, Defense Undersecretary Ken Krieg appeared before the U.S. House Armed Services Committee to talk about how to improve the department’s acquisition efforts. “I believe we should strive to budget programs as realistically as possible,” Krieg said. “Doing so should, in the long run, result in less volatility and overruns. However, we must also be willing to wait until technologies are mature, and performance requirements and designs are stable.” Recognizing that pressure on acquisition programs comes from several angles is an excellent starting point to making them better, and the aerospace and defense industry is ready to do its part. A good blueprint for these efforts is the Defense Acquisition Performance Assessment (DAPA) panel report. The DAPA panel, led by retired Lt. Gen. Ron Kadish, produced a thoughtful and thorough assessment. Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, who will help decide whether to implement the panel’s recommendations, deserves credit for initiating the review. Stabilize Program Funding One particularly important recommendation is to explore ways to stabilize in program funding. Budget shortfalls can delay development programs, and it can take up to three years to obtain additional budget authority. Preventing them would avoid many of the problems in the acquisition system. Industry also has long backed the idea that eliminating cost growth in programs would avoid many acquisition system problems. In addition to creating the Stable Program Funding Account, adopting a policy of multiyear procurement for mature programs could provide additional budgetary stability while further reducing costs. The panel recommends several innovative ways to improve source selections for large developments. Awarding such contracts at realistic — rather than optimistic — estimated costs would reduce cost growth. And we wholeheartedly support the recommendation to seek industry views so strategic goals are aligned. Another vital recommendation is increasing the number and quality of acquisition officials. The aerospace and defense industry agrees that the people making the decisions will dictate how smoothly it works. It’s important for the government to increase its investment in developing and hiring the next generation of high-quality people, who will soon need to take over procurement responsibilities as growing numbers of the current government work force become eligible for retirement. It’s equally important for government to support the efforts of industry to attract the next generation of high-quality people to manage and execute industry’s role in acquisition. Realizing the substantial savings that would result from these reforms will require leadership and commitment from DoD’s civilian leadership, the military services, acquisition officials, the government budgeting community, the aerospace and defense industry, and, of course, Congress. We believe that given the quality of the DAPA panel’s recommendations and Deputy Secretary England’s demonstrated leadership, will help strengthen national security while improving the stewardship of taxpayer dollars and sustaining a vibrant, competitive aerospace and defense industry for the future. Industry is also optimistic, given the time invested in improving acquisition in Congress. In the last two months the House Armed Services Committee heard not only from Krieg, but Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Gen. Kadish also addressed a subcommittee. The two days of hearings are a sign Congress is taking the matter seriously and acting to make improvements. Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter should be commended for taking leadership on this important matter. The DAPA panel recommendations are dramatic and far-reaching. AIA is optimistic that Congress, the Defense Department, industry and all other interested parties will devote the time and attention necessary to assess the recommendations and implement those that will really make a difference.