Panel seeks changes to DOD acquisition system

Recommendations include ways to speed weapon systems to the battlefield

The Defense Department is reviewing eight major recommendations from an independent panel on how to fix the military's acquisition system. DOD could begin implementing some of them as early as this spring.

The panel's recommendations, issued in December 2005, cover every aspect of acquisition policy. The Defense Acquisition Performance Assessment (DAPA) Project, a panel of nine military, industry and education officials, was formed last summer to advise DOD on acquisition changes that could help speed delivery of weapon systems to the battlefield.

"There are pieces that [clearly] need to be fixed," said Paul Kern, a panel member and retired Army four-star general.

DOD has accepted the report and is reviewing it, said Cheryl Irwin, a department spokeswoman.

DOD and industry officials say the military's acquisition system is too costly and senior leaders lack confidence in it. Despite many attempts in the past 20 years to fix the system, they say, DOD has made few substantial improvements.

Military leaders who spoke at last year's Milcom 2005 conference expressed frustration about the department'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 panel advised the military to improve the scheduling of programs. Successful DOD programs have clear goals and deadlines, Kern said, while initiatives that lack such features will founder.

Another recommendation pertains to requirements. The military needs an acquisition system that lets DOD buy equipment immediately in war time and makes its harder to start new programs, he said.

The most significant recommendation involves the creation of new organizations, called service systems commands, in the Army, Navy and Air Force. A four-star general or flag officer would lead the new organizations and report to the services' acquisition secretaries and top officers.

Commanders of the service systems commands would oversee acquisition workforce training and education. That would enhance how the services' top officers manage workforce training, education and experience.

Another recommendation calls for DOD's top acquisition official to budget and manage a modernization account. The account would cover all military programs that complete the system development and demonstration acquisition phase to ensure they stay on budget and operate as expected.

The Aerospace Industries Association agreed with many of the panel's recommendations, especially those for developing stable programs and placing better people in the military and industry to manage them, said John Douglass, president and chief executive officer of the aerospace and defense industry trade group.

Kern said stable defense programs require industry to submit more realistic contract bids. But Douglass said companies typically do that now because the military services and DOD are happier and seek more business from them when programs meet or finish under their budgets.

Kern said industry needs to reinvest more of its DOD sales revenue in research and development to preserve the military's technological superiority. U.S. aerospace and defense sales totaled $174 billion in 2005, and those companies reinvested 5 percent of their annual sales, Douglass said.

DOD will publish the DAPA Project's final report later this month. The department will likely implement the recommendations in six-month intervals, Kern said.

The panel's recommendations

In a preliminary report issued last month, the Defense Acquisition Performance Assessment Project -- an independent panel of representatives from the military, industry and academia — made eight major recommendations for fixing the military's acquisition system.

The panel recommended:

  • Realigning organizational authority and accountability and streamlining oversight.
  • Rebuilding the acquisition workforce and leadership.
  • Allowing combatant commands to lead the requirements process.
  • Adding an operationally acceptable test evaluation.
  • Shifting to deadline-oriented development procedures.
  • Transforming the budget process and establishing a separate account for modernization efforts.
  • Adopting a risk-based source-selection process.
  • Sharing long-range acquisition plans and fostering technology investment with industry.

The Defense Department is reviewing the panel's recommendations.

-- Frank Tiboni

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