Official: Short tenures hurt DOD acquisition

Few political appointees and career employees in the Defense Department stay long enough to be held accountable for bad acquisition decisions related to major weapons systems, an official told a House panel today.

Since 1987, DOD undersecretaries for acquisition, logistics and technology have an average tenure of 20 months and program managers leave frequently while a major weapon program is being developed, Michael Sullivan, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the Government Accountability Office, said in testimony before the House Budget Committee.

DOD’s conventional acquisition process often requires as many as 10 to 15 years from a program’s start to production as today's programs provide revolutionary capabilities, such as network-centric warfare, Sullivan said.

The department could help with the necessary changes to the acquisition system if defense officials created a single point of accountability for managing the assortment of defense weapons systems, he said. DOD would also have to consider its resources before launching new programs. Sullivan said DOD needs to balance the near-term needs of the warfighter with the long-term needs of a modernized military.

The officials should prioritize their needs and make sure they reach the programs’ targets before investing in the program. Most programs don’t reach the targets, missing the mark by an average of nearly two years, Sullivan said.

Sullivan also said, “Congress can also support change through its own decisions about whether to authorize and appropriate funds for individual weapon programs.”

About the Author

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

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Reader comments

Thu, Mar 19, 2009 mike mcmanus WPAFB

This is not a new problem. Believe that (in the middle 1980's) major program managers were required to sign an agreement, as a condition of appointment, to stay in place until the next major program milestone. Wonder what happened to that requirement?

Thu, Mar 19, 2009 Patty DC

The reason Program Executive Officers and Program/Product Managers sometimes leave before the next acquisition milestone is reached is that these positions are categorized as Command-equivalent position and are a "ticket-punch" job for those on the program management side of the acquisition community. You get longer tenures with the civilian PMs/PEOs than you do with the military members. But the only thing that will affect that is an institutional change to the the military's Up or Out system.

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