Top Military Leaders Unhappy With Pace of Acquisition Reform

By Elizabeth Book

Senior military leaders expressed concern about the way the Pentagon manages acquisition programs and sets policy. During a recent conference on defense reform in Washington, D.C., general officers from the Marine Corps, the Army and the Air Force agreed that the current procurement process is not helping advance their modernization plans.

Acquisition policy makers at the Pentagon should work more closely with the service chiefs, said Gen. James Jones, commandant of the Marine Corps. “It’s my sense that our acquisition rules are written on the presumption of wrongdoing, and we are essentially outsiders looking in at the service chief level. Once you get into the acquisition process, the message is ‘stay out of this.’ I think that has to be changed.

“I’m a big believer in the concept that we [the service chiefs] need to do more in terms of internal reform. A lot of the problems are self-inflicted, because we have adopted a system of deferred payment. We rob Peter to pay Paul. We then light fuses to sticks of dynamite, which will explode on our successors’ desks,” Jones said.

The acquisition process is inefficient, Jones stated, in addition to being very costly to the taxpayers. “We have the architecture to succeed and do things better, but we need to focus on modern business practices.”

“The singleness of purpose of the acquisition stove pipes keeps people like the service chiefs from getting too deeply into it, and asking questions like: Where are the milestones? How is the program going? It’s a separate community, and I think we focus too much on writing the rules and regulations,” Jones said.

Business Practices
Maj. Gen. Robert Armbruster, the Army’s deputy for systems management and horizontal technology integration, agreed that modern business practices should be applied to the acquisition process. He said the armed forces must work together with industry throughout the acquisition process to get better results. “In view of the soldier, the expectation is baseline to requirement. We need to start working in a more synergistic manner with industry, to match industry’s capability to produce. We need to get concepts from industry early in the cycle and get technology assessments,” Armbruster explained.

“We have some innovations in the Army, to try to get prototypes into the hands of our soldiers quicker so that they can use them and provide feedback, so we can get a better product,” he said. However, Armbruster noted, budget stability is desperately needed. “We cannot plan a program every year and expect to get it out there on time, with the current state of the budget,” he said.

Like the other services, the Army has continually aging equipment, which requires recapitalization. What is most important, according to Armbruster, is striking “a balance between future requirements, today’s force, and our legacy force.”

Recapitalizing the forces and refocusing the acquisition process to improve force structure is also a concern for Air Force Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, who is director of force structure for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He said that “without some changes in infrastructure, the excess infrastructure that we have, which is about 23 percent right now, we will have a significant problem recapitalizing the force that we bought in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s.”

Carlson was asked about specific system developments and the effect of the acquisition process on individual systems. Carlson worked on the development of the B-2 Bomber, a system designed in the 1970s, built in the 1980s and employed in the 1990s. When asked to look back and comment on the development of the B-2, he said he would definitely “do things differently today, but we have to be careful when we Monday morning quarterback.”

Because of how the acquisition process was structured, “We spent a lot of time working on a system that eventually had the capability to evolve over time. It went from a low-level strategic nuclear bomber and became a high-altitude conventional precision weapon,” he said.

Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston, supreme commander allied Europe, who has 91 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) nations under his command in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, said that operational chiefs need only to be involved in the requirements process, not in setting policy.

Ralston said that fundamental improvements to the acquisition processes by the service chiefs are welcome, but “I don’t want to drive the acquisition process, other than saying ‘I have a requirement.’ This is where the services are doing a good job and are better equipped,” he said.

Topics: Acquisition, Acquistion Reform, DOD Leadership

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