Sequestration Could Hinder Acquisition Reforms, Pentagon Official Says

By Valerie Insinna

Defense Department leadership has emphasized the importance of defining requirements and starting testing as early as possible, but putting that into practice will be difficult if sequestration goes back into effect in fiscal year 2016, a Pentagon acquisition official said.

"We will not be able to afford all of the programs that we're even doing right now if we go into sequestration the next year and that continues. That's a fact," said Darlene Costello, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for acquisition.

Through the Better Buying Power 2.0 initiative and new Defense Department acquisition instructions, Frank Kendall, under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, is pushing for processes to begin earlier. Formulating requirements and reviewing a request for proposal are two actions that could be moved to the left, Costello told industry at NDIA’s testing and evaluation conference held July 23 in Washington, D.C.

“It doesn’t mean everything is done at the beginning, but it means that we’re thinking about it earlier,” she said. “We’re thinking about what would be our testing strategy. We’re going to understand the [concept of operations] that we’re going to be putting a new weapon system in." 

However, sequestration will probably be reintroduced in fiscal year 2016, meaning that acquiring new systems will become even more difficult. In an optimal fiscal climate, officials will often opt to spend more money at the beginning of the program, Costello said. That could be a challenge if additional mandatory budget cuts are reintroduced.

“We're not looking to kill programs, but we really need to shave, I think, about as much as you can off the edge,” she said.

When crafting fiscal year 2016 budgets, acquisition officials should consider what activities could be delayed in order to cut costs, but “if it makes sense to spend a little bit more up front to save [money] over the ... program, we have to keep considering that,” she said.

Because testing and evaluation often comes later in the acquisition process, funding for those activities may take a bigger hit, Costello said. Program managers looking for funding could choose to move money from testing to other areas with the hope that more will be available in future years.

In this current budgetary climate, however, such thinking is optimistic, she said.

“It's hard to argue that you might be able to get more money the next year. But it's just the reality [that] it's not likely,” she said. “It's going to be just as hard the following year."

It is important for everyone within the acquisition process to challenge excess bureaucracy and find new ways to save money, Costello said. That includes the testing and evaluation community, which must think about more efficient ways to put new systems through their paces.

"Anything we can do to make our process more efficient and find some savings would be very beneficial to the whole enterprise,” she said.

The push to start certain acquisition activities earlier will necessitate that officials ensure that a system’s requirements are still relevant in the current threat environment, Costello said.  

"That's hard for the program managers, because they've been given a charter to go off with something on day one that they're going to execute, and it could be equally challenging for industry,” she said.

“That's something we have to — at every milestone at least — be touching on,” she added. “Are we still working to the current set of threats? Do we need to make any changes in the course because of the change in threat? And do we need to address funding differently as a result, and do we need to address our test plan differently?”

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Budget, DOD Policy

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