Panel: DOD needs experienced procurement people

A panel of defense experts today told a Senate committee the acquisition workforce must be an important and high priority if the Defense Department wants to improve its purchases.

Jacques Gansler, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics from 1997 to 2001, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that DOD's acquisition employees are undervalued and people considering the field are given little incentive to join it. The acquisition field offers few opportunities to advance to senior positions and departmental leadership, he said.

“Even if we pass all the laws in the world, we need the people who are going to be driving this process,” said Gansler, who leads the Defense Science Board Task Force on Industrial Structure for Transformation.

In 1990, DOD had about 500,000 acquisition employees and in 2006, the department had 200,000. However, most of them work in logistics and in military depots, not in contracting, Gansler said.

People won’t join the acquisition workforce if they don’t see the results of their work, said panelist Paul Kaminski, chairman of a National Research Council committee on systems engineering. To that end, DOD needs to shorten the time it takes to start a project and see it implemented, said Kaminski, who was undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology from 1994 to 1997.

“When programs are taking 15 to 20 years [to complete], many of those best and brightest people say what’s the difference,” and then they go elsewhere, he said.

The hearing focused on DOD’s acquisition strategies for buying major weapons systems and legislation committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and ranking member Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced Feb. 23. The bill would require more oversight of systems engineering and independent assessments of a technology’s maturity and overall cost. The bill would also require DOD officials to award military and civilian personnel for well-done work in the acquisition of DOD products and services.

Gansler said DOD needs experienced acquisition people. Without experienced people, the government is left vulnerable because the acquisition decision-makers won’t know what questions to ask as they develop the major weapons systems.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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