Armed Services chair to propose new defense acquisition reforms

Armed Services chair to propose new defense acquisition reforms
© Greg Nash

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) is set to unveil a second tranche of defense acquisition reform proposals on Tuesday that will seek to give businesses incentive to bid for defense contracts and military services incentive to experiment and innovate. 

The proposals are part of a draft standalone bill that he plans to unveil as a follow up to last year's acquisition reforms that sought to make military services more accountable for cost overruns and delays on major weapons systems.  

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The main reforms this year, which Thornberry will seek to include in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act -- an annual bill which authorizes defense programs, activities and spending -- will have three key goals.

The first goal is to field better technology faster, by waiting until complex weapons systems are mature before they go into procurement, and promoting faster upgrades of key components. 

The legislation will seek to differentiate between "platforms" and "components." The goal is to field the platform first, but then allow components to be easily and quickly upgraded as technology develops. What the differentiation is will vary by platform, House Armed Services Committee staff aides said. 

Platforms would have systems with open architectures to facilitate upgrades and allow for more competition for those upgrades. Services would be able to use their own funding to prototype component upgrades faster, as well as to foster experimentation. 

The services would have more flexible funding, or "looser budget justification," according to staff aides. 

The legislation would also clarify intellectual property rights -- a contentious issue between the Pentagon and its industrial base. The bill would make all components conform to the same open interfaces, but allow privately-funded components to remain the intellectual property of the developer. 

Jointly-funded capability — funded by the government and privately — would be subject to negotiation between the two parties. 

The second major goal would be to continue to simplify and improve program management. 

The legislation would give the defense secretary more tools to manage and approve cost, schedule, and technological risk for major acquisition programs, but then delegate more milestone authority to the services. The secretary would assign targets for cost and a fielding date, and the Milestone Decision Authority must then manage to those targets. 

Milestone Decision Authority for joint Pentagon programs would be assigned to a lead military service, which would reduce redundant bureaucracy. The lead military service would be responsible for the platform, but other services would be responsible for its own various components and upgrades. 

The third major goal would be to ensure transparency by establishing an "Acquisition Scorecard" for weapons systems, which would pull from existing reports and documents in order to have various assessments in one place. 

At Milestone A, the scorecard would compare program and independent estimates of cost, schedule, and technical risk, and analysis of alternatives. At Milestone B, the scorecard would show program and independent estimates of cost, schedule and technical risk. At Milestone C, the scorecard would show program and independent estimates of cost, schedule and manufacturing risk. 

"These are foundational reforms that are intended to help get better technology into the hands of the warfighter faster and more efficiently," a committee fact sheet said. "It does that by simplying the process and expanding hte avenues of competition for suppliers of all sizes." 

"Building on the lessons from successful military innovation of the past, these critical reforms will promote experimation and prototyping, not only to field capability, but to learn and develop new operational concepts," it said.