Army Insiders Propose Fixes to Acquisition Regime
With typical technology development programs taking eight to 10 years to come to fruition, and a host of failed programs that have cost taxpayers billions, the Army faces renewed scrutiny when it comes to its acquisition regime.
Army and industry insiders sounded off Oct. 13 about ways to streamline the service’s ponderously slow acquisition process at the Association for the United States Army annual conference in Washington, D.C.
One proposed piece of legislation would give service chiefs greater involvement in the acquisition process. Heidi Shyu, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, said, “I absolutely welcome the chief’s involvement, as well as the vice’s. I don’t know how much time he is going to have for acquisition,” noting that she would love to have him sit in on the myriad panels that she oversees that determine whether programs move forward.
His eyeballs might roll in the back of his head because sitting through all these meetings can be “painful,” she said. “I don’t know if he knows what he’s signing up for,” she quipped. “You’ve got to remember that at the senior leadership level they are dealing with 10,000 things coming at them constantly.” Representatives for the chief of staff would probably sit in for him as the vice chief does now during troublesome meetings where there is controversy or roadblocks.
“The vice has a very important role because he can speak from the operational perspective. He can speak for the requirement perspective, and that is extremely valuable,” Shyu said. She has served under four vice chiefs of staff now, and their interest in acquisitions changes.
Deeper involvement on the part of the Army chief of staff could result in requirements stability, she said.
After five years working at the Pentagon, she has learned how unstable requirements can be. Whoever is in charge has a different idea of what they should be. “Whoever comes in says, ‘I’ve got to have this. This is a requirement.’ And when he leaves office, the next person comes in succeeding him changes the requirements. So you get whiplash,” she said.
“The stability of requirements is extraordinarily important if you want a program on the other end. Otherwise, you end up with constantly trying to hit a moving target. … That’s the beginning of the death spiral,” Shyu said.
Pierre Chao, founding partner of consultants Renaissance Strategic Advisors, said incentives, which have only begun being part of the acquisition reform conversation during the last few years, are vital. Currently, there are negative incentives. If a program manager does well and saves funding, the extra money is taken away and given to a program that is not doing well. “That’s not a very good incentive to keep performing well,” he said. He should be allowed to reinvest it in another set of capabilities.
An acquisition rule is normally created for a good reason after some kind of failure, Chao said. Then it sits in the books forever long after it is no longer needed. “Everyone forgets why it was created and you may not need it anymore.”
The rules should have sunset provisions, or something that forces the military to look at them again and ask, “Why am I doing this?”
Maj. Gen. John F. Wharton, commanding general of the Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, said the Army should take a good look at itself before looking externally for solutions to its acquisition problems.
“I would argue that we have internal things in the Army that we have to do. How do you define a requirement? … The requirements generation process is something I think we have to work internally within the Army to get better.”
Shyu gave credit to Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who has worked closely with the Army to eliminate red tape, some of which she characterized as “low hanging fruit.” But she agreed with Wharton that the service has to put its own house in order.
Every week, she has to sign off on a stack full of papers, some of which come to her with 17 signatures on them. Many of those who have to approve the paperwork never have any comments. She questioned why these signatures are needed.
“We’ve got to continue down this path [of reform] or the bureaucracy is going to kill us,” she said.