Initiatives would improve military’s acquisition process

Defense acquisition transformation has been debated for years, but true progress has been sluggish. Acquisition must quickly become more flexible and adaptive. This significant challenge cuts across the management process of government and industry, and Congress must act on it soon.

The Department of Defense has outlined major defense acquisition transformation initiatives in two significant reports: the Defense Acquisition Transformation Report to Congress (the Section 804 Report) and the Defense Acquisition Performance Assessment (DAPA) Panel report. The reports provide a blueprint for critical reforms in acquisition, centering on reform initiatives in areas such as workforce, budget, acquisition and industry. Congress must play a constructive role in acquisition reform by addressing these themes.

Workforce is a priority for the DoD and Congress. The DoD workforce has recently seen a contraction. Combined with a wave of anticipated retirements, this will lead to shortages in DoD acquisition professionals. We need a well-qualified workforce that can respond to future acquisition challenges. Reforms are necessary to transition responsibility, authority and accountability to the lowest practical level. Finally, the senior DoD leadership needs to support a culture of change and innovation.

The 110th Congress is emphasizing federal acquisition workforce reform, focusing on recruitment, development and training.  In Sec. 802 of the House fiscal 2008 defense authorization, we make permanent the Acquisition Workforce Training Fund and require the Secretary of Defense to include a separate section focused on the defense acquisition workforce in its update of the DoD strategic human capital plan. These reforms were supported both within the Congress and by industry.

Two other key elements in acquisition reform are budget and program stability. Naturally, investment spending (procurement and RDT&E) needs to be sufficient to fund current acquisition programs and support the U.S. defense industrial base. Congress should press DoD to develop more accurate initial cost estimates and financial data. Initial estimates are often too low, leading to increases as the program matures. Pilot programs for capital accounts would increase stability for major acquisition programs, which could help reduce decision-making times and provide earlier initial operating capabilities. The next administration should examine the efficacy of the Bush administration’s limited capital account pilot program and consider expanding the pilot to other programs.

Acquisition processes and procedures within DoD must also be streamlined to facilitate acquisition transformation. Some of the processes highlighted in the recent DoD reports include portfolio management, time-defined acquisition, evaluation of alternatives, investment balance reviews, risk based source selection and systems engineering excellence. Congress can provide support through its review and oversight role and by bringing acquisition issues and problems to the attention of the executive branch.  The House placed emphasis this year on acquisition reform by proposing in the ’08 defense authorization expanded competition in contracting, extension of authority for use of simplified acquisition procedures for certain commercial items and establishment of a Defense Production Readiness Board.

Recently, Congress has legislated more in the acquisition policy area with mixed results. For example, the Senate is supporting changes to a multi-year procurement law that would force DoD to issue regulations imposing a fixed percentage savings test on future multi-year procurement contracts. If enacted, the rigidity of the legislation would force DoD and the taxpayer to lose the opportunity to achieve millions of dollars in savings on defense programs.

Industry reforms are also important to the future of reform. Criteria including defining and evaluating programs, funding, stability, economic/financial metrics, competitiveness, sustainment and key contractor workforce capabilities established for the defense industrial base to evaluate its reliability, cost-effectiveness and sufficiency. The acquisition community needs to assess how to leverage the positive aspects of defense globalization, while minimizing risks. U.S. firms must remain competitive for our own national interests and for exports.  Unfortunately, in specialty metals the House proposed several provisions that could make it difficult for DoD by implementing in its update of the DoD strategic human capital plan last year’s reforms to specialty metals domestic source restrictions, prompting President Bush to threaten a veto of the ’08 defense authorization.

There is an opportunity to make progress in the area of defense acquisition reform, provided the Department of Defense and Congress focus on the issues impacting the management of the defense enterprise. Greater dialogue between DoD and Congress is essential. I look forward to being engaged in this area and working toward achieving greater economies and efficiencies in our defense programs.

Scott is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.