DOD reviewing acquisition reform

Finding a faster route to warfighters

The Defense Department is five months into a review of the military's acquisition structure and processes. That effort could lead to the faster delivery of weapon systems to the battlefield.

The new Defense Acquisition Performance Assessment (DAPA) Project is examining every aspect of DOD acquisition, including requirements and organization. Department leaders want a procurement system with clear responsibility, authority and accountability, according to military and industry officials.

"There is a growing and deep concern with the Congress and within the [department] leadership team about the DOD acquisition processes," said Gordon England, acting deputy secretary of Defense, in the "Acquisition Action Plan" memo that established the new project. He issued the memo this summer to senior department, service and agency officials.

England said many DOD programs continue to increase in cost and schedule even after multiple studies and recommendations. He said he wants a simpler acquisition system. "Restructuring acquisition is critical and essential," England said.

Military leaders who spoke at last month's Milcom 2005 conference expressed frustration with DOD's current acquisition structure, saying it takes too much time to equip warfighters with new systems and technologies to wage the war on terrorism. The conference did not hold a session specifically on the topic, but at least six officials discussed it during their presentations.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Tommy Crawford, commander of the Air Force Command and Control, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center, said the service takes six years to equip units with a new system, while technology changes every 18 months. "This is unacceptable in the world of information technology," he said.

Army Maj. Gen. Roger Nadeau, commanding general of the Army Research Development Engineering Command, was more blunt. "Traditional acquisition isn't working," he said.

Military officials said al Qaeda can move money to fund missions and buy technologies without legal and budgetary rules and regulations. So DOD must find ways to send systems to the battlefield quicker.

Crawford said military officials can take several steps to speed the acquisition of systems. He said they can use military technology development facilities, called battle laboratories, to work on promising technologies.

Nadeau said the Army has several success stories in which officials procured technologies outside traditional acquisition strategies for the war on terrorism. He cited the Phraselator, a handheld device that allows warfighters to communicate with people in their native language, and the PackBot, a robot that allows them to see inside buildings and caves.

Army Brig. Gen. Nick Justice, deputy program executive officer of the service's Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical, said strategy is the answer to the DOD acquisition problem. He said the military must find ways to use existing technologies. "We can create new capabilities by integrating current capabilities," Justice said.

The Air Force is leading the DAPA project, and Dave Patterson is its executive director. It includes a panel of military and industry officials, and Ron Kadish, a retired Air Force general, is chairman. He previously led the Missile Defense Agency and is now a partner and vice president at the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton.

Military and industry officials believe DOD's current acquisition system is afflicted with massive cost growth, lack of confidence by senior leaders and little, if any, improvement despite many attempts in the past 20 years to fix it. The DAPA project will provide recommendations on improving DOD's acquisition system.

Is Congress to blame?

The Defense Department is not solely responsible for its acquisition woes, said Baker Spring, the F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy at the Heritage Foundation. He said Congress deserves part of the blame and recommends that lawmakers and policy-makers take five steps to help fix the problem.

Spring suggests they:

  • Address legislative requirements for reform systemically not episodically.
  • Allow flexibility so different programs can be managed differently.
  • Provide adequate funds for research and procurement.
  • Stop trying to impose a highly centralized system.
  • Recognize that irresponsible oversight results in a risk-averse approach.

-- Frank Tiboni

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