No Surprises in the Army's Latest Acquisition Study: 'Broken' System Must Change
The Army starts more programs than it can afford and takes too long to define requirements for major programs, the study found.
The report was the result of a 120-day review led by former Army acquisition chief Gil Decker and retired Gen. Lou Wagner. Their team interviewed more than 100 people scattered throughout the acquisition process and consulted more than 300 previous studies, Wagner told attendees last week at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual winter symposium.
“There have been so many studies of acquisition and then we compare them and almost all of them had similar recommendations,” Wagner said. “But what did it normally lead to? More regulations, more layers, more people who could say ‘no.’”
He said that the recommendations of this latest study, if implemented successfully, should result in a significant expansion of the acquisition work force, realistic requirements and reduced cost overruns. Wagner said it is important that the requirements process be more collaborative and timely.
The right people have not been involved early enough with the Training and Doctrine Command, Wagner said. He countered recent media reports that said the study had found TRADOC unable or ill-suited to oversee weapons requirements.
"TRADOC is not in shambles," he said. "In fact, TRADOC has made great strides in solving a number of the problems that have grown up over the years. The commanders of TRADOC and the commanders of the Army Materiel Command are trying to do a great job with one hand tied behind their back."
The report recommends putting together a special task force to carve out requirements for major defense acquisition programs. The Joint Capabilities Integration Development System, or JCIDS, currently defines requirements and evaluation criteria for future defense programs. But that process is broken, Wagner said. It takes between 15 and 22 months to approve a requirements document, he said.
“It was well-thought out when it started but it has turned into a tremendous bureaucracy today,” Wagner said. The Pentagon should consider completely eliminating JCIDS if things don't improve, he said.
Wagner noted that with all of the paperwork and documentation involved, it can take up to five years before the Army can produce anything.
Between 1990 and 2010, the service terminated 22 major programs. Fifteen of those were killed in the last 10 years.
Not every kind of program should have to go through the same lengthy process, he said. The Army procured the Stryker vehicle in four years. Wagner called that a good example of taking something off the shelf and improving it. There is no reason a program like that should have to fight through the same red tape that a new system with unproven technology would have to go through, he said.
The Army needs to emphasize shorter cycles and the rapid insertion of technology, the report recommends. It should limit its pursuit of the most far-reaching technologies to true “game changers” like the atomic bomb, Wagner said. Leaders should focus development and production on what is needed in the field during the next seven years, he added.
The report also recommends more closely aligning the organizations involved in acquisition and making a greater effort to communicate with industry. For example, there are currently about a dozen program executive officers (PEOs) who procure equipment for individual soldiers. Wagner’s team suggests turning PEO Soldier into PEO Soldier and Small Unit to provide all of these efforts with the same oversight.
He said Army leaders should spend more time meeting one-on-one with industry representatives, who often are reluctant to share detailed information about their research and products at public conferences.
In addition to Army leadership, Wagner and company have briefed the Pentagon’s acquisition chief Ashton Carter on their recommendations.
“Some of this can be done in the Army,” Wagner said, “but not all of it can be done in the Army.”