Mattis: 'Open communication' with private sector is the key to acquisition reform

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Army photo by Monica King. Jan. 26, 2017. 

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said it's time to "get on with it" when it comes to fixing the department's acquisition system during the opening remarks at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual meeting and exposition in Washington, D.C., Monday.

"As much as processes bore all of us to tears, if we don't get this acquisition process right, you can throw the best people in the world at it and nine times out of 10 a bad process is going to win," he said, referring to the department's plan to split up its acquisition, technology and logistics division. "We've got people in there who know what they're doing, it's time to roll up our sleeves and get on with it."

The Defense Department publicly embraced the congressional mandate to split up AT&L in May, following long opposition from the Obama administration. After the split, AT&L will become two organizations with one focusing on acquisition and sustainment and another on research and engineering. Each new organization will get its own defense undersecretary.

Mattis tapped current AT&L Undersecretary Ellen Lord and Deputy Secretary Patrick Shanahan to lead the effort based on their respective private-sector expertise in defense contracts and supply chain and operations.

The Defense Department must also overcome trepidation in communicating with corporations to solve the acquisitions problem that can stymy the military's warfighting capabilities, he said.

The aim here is that we "move faster in research and engineering," Mattis said, adding that he's seen what American industry and Silicon Valley are capable of and that "we've got to be in communication with them much more robustly."

"Corporations are made up of Americans too, and I want open communications -- no favoritism, no violations of law, no violations of ethics. But I [no longer want] this gulf between us to deny us the very advances that American industry is out there and executing for themselves in the private sector," he said. "The advances in weaponry that are out there right now -- and in some countries our advantage is being eroded as they move more swiftly."

In remarks seemingly aimed at debate around the pending National Defense Authorization Act, Mattis also called on Congress to settle its budgetary concerns or risk compromising military capabilities.

"Even as our competitive edge over our foes and adversaries decrease[s] due to budgetary confusion in this town and the budget caps, I am among the majority in this country that believes our nation can afford survival," he said. "I want the Congress back in the driver seat of budget decisions, not in the spectator seat of automatic cuts. I have great confidence in the U.S. Congress, but I have no confidence in automatic mathematical budget cuts."

But in almost the next breath, Mattis added that whatever budget the DOD is given, the agency, under Shanahan's guidance, was going to "rework our business practices to gain full benefit of every dollar spent on defense."

"We are taking aggressive action to reform the way we do business and to gain and to hold the trust of the Congress and the American people that we are responsible stewards of the money allocated to us and that it translates directly every dollar into the defense of our country and what it stands for."

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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