Lawmakers: When Are You Going to Fix Military Acquisition?

By Sandra I. Erwin
It was just two years ago that Congress passed with much ballyhoo the law that was going to finally fix the Pentagon’s wasteful, budget-busting weapons acquisition system.
The Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009, known as WSARA, was the culmination of months of debate and vented outrage about out-of-control military procurement programs and the Pentagon’s seeming inability to keep projects on schedule.
Fast forward to March 10, 2011, when members of the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee, chaired by Rep. J. Randy Forbes, R-Va., hosted a hearing to discuss the state of today’s military and the impact of tighter budgets on future combat readiness.
Some lawmakers at the hearing appeared exasperated by the dilemmas they face as they seek to reduce the federal deficit without undermining U.S. military strength. So they asked the witnesses — three-star general and flag officers from each of the armed services — to explain why the acquisition system continues to waste so much money, and why it takes so long to deliver new systems to soldiers on the front lines. Just a day earlier, the Government Accountability Office had delivered to the HASC air and land force subcommittee a blistering report that documented billions of dollars in unneeded and duplicative Army procurement programs.
The witnesses gave the standard answers that for years have been given to congressional committees in response to questions about why the acquisition system is broken.
“We probably made it too complicated,” said Lt. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, Army deputy chief of staff for operations. The current procurement is about making ‘perfect’ equipment in every regard,” he said. “We probably need to settle for just good enough.”
His Air Force counterpart, Lt. Gen. Herbert J. Carlisle, deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements, agreed. “All the things that the bureaucracy does can sometimes inflate costs,” said Carlisle. “I think we have a tendency sometimes to go for the exquisite. And we can’t afford to go to the exquisite. So I think good enough is exactly right.” People complain the system is too slow, but Carlisle believes the problem is that everyone is in too much of a hurry. “Impatience on the part of a variety of audiences — consumer, war fighters …” can lead to trouble, he said. “A lot of people will create impatience and that sometimes causes problems in your programs as you move forward.” That said, “We’ve got to fix the procurement and acquisition process in the Defense Department.”
More oversight and a larger procurement work force are key to fixing current problems, said Vice Admiral Bruce W. Clingan, deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy.
Finally, it was Lt. Gen. Richard T. Tryon, Marine Corps deputy commandant for plans, policies, and operations’ turn to offer his views. He didn’t have a specific solution in mind. But he noted that the Pentagon’s science arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is working on it. “DARPA is examining this question to determine how we might better streamline processes and accelerate acquisition,” Tryon said.
No word yet on whether or when DARPA officials may be called in to testify.
Nobody at the hearing, by the way, even mentioned WSARA.

Topics: Procurement, Acquisition Reform

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