Study Confirms Army Sinks Billions Every Year Into Programs That End Up Being Canceled

By Sandra I. Erwin
Add one more to the list of an estimated 130 studies that have prescribed fixes for the Pentagon’s seemingly intractable weapons procurement system.
The Army today released “Army Strong: Equipped, Trained and Ready: Final Report of the 2010 Army Acquisition Review, ” a study that was delivered to service officials in early February but had been kept under wraps.
Most of what is in the study will not be news to those familiar with military procurement programs: The Army starts more programs than it can afford, takes too long to define requirements, and fails to take advantage of commercial technology. The most shocking revelation in the report is the dollar value associated with canceled programs. It estimated that the Army has frittered away more than $3 billion a year over the past decade on new weapons programs that never reach fruition or produce any useful equipment for soldiers.
The report was the result of a 120-day review led by former Army acquisition executive Gilbert Decker and retired Gen. Lou Wagner. Their team interviewed more than 100 acquisition professionals throughout the Army and consulted more than 300 previous studies. “There have been so many studies of acquisition and then we compare them and almost all of them had similar recommendations,” Wagner told theAssociation of the U.S. Army in February.
He said that the recommendations, if implemented successfully, should help the Army invest its dollars more wisely. The current process, just to produce a document that lays out the “requirements” of a single weapon system, takes up to two years. By the time it is completed, the needs of troops in the field and the state of technology already may have changed substantially.
The Army’s procurement system has “turned into a tremendous bureaucracy today,” Wagner said. 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.
“Much of what must be done to improve Army acquisition is already known and has been articulated in dozens of studies,” said retiredArmy Col. Nathaniel H. Sledge Jr., who in 2008 conducted a study focused on rapid acquisition programs.
Thomas E. Hawley, deputy undersecretary of the Army, said the Army already is moving ahead toimplement 30 out of the 56 recommendations in theDecker-Wagner report. He pushed back on the notion that the Army’s propensity to cancel programs has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars. “No one wants to waste any money,” Hawley told reporters July 21 at a Pentagon news conference. He said the Army “did get some value” out of those terminated programs because it was able to transfer some of the technology to other efforts.
Heidi Shyu, acting assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, said the Decker-Wagner study offers an opportunity to “look ahead …. Figure out what we need to do, and what we need to change to improve.” Dwelling over past mistakes, she told reporters, is like “crying over spilled milk.”
Major acquisitions such as the Army's Ground Combat Vehicle already are incorporating the proposals in the study, she said. For example, GCV officials will be seeking more off-the-shelf technologies and components where the private sector already has invested corporate research-and-development dollars.
“This is complex,” Hawley said. “If it were easy, it would have been fixed by now.”

Topics: Procurement, Acquisition Reform

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