Army Officials Press Chief’s Case for Greater Acquisition Authority

By Jon Harper
RAH-66 Comanche helicopter, an example of a failed Army acquisition program

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- The Army’s top officer should have more power over the acquisition process, service officials said at a high-profile conference on March 15.

In the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress gave the service chiefs greater acquisition authority than they have enjoyed in recent years. But Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley has been pushing for more.

“The chief needs to have a bigger role in acquisition,” said Mary Miller, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for research and technology, at the Association of the United States Army’s Global Force Symposium and Exhibition in Huntsville, Alabama. “I mean ‘Big A’ acquisition, which is requirements, funding and the acquiring of equipment. He represents the operational soldier and therefore has a voice and should be heard.”

To protect against “requirements creep,” which has plagued major acquisition projects in the past, the chief of staff of the Army should have tighter control, said Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins, director of force development in the office of the deputy chief of staff, G-8.

If “the chief slaps the table and says, ‘These are the requirements that I approve,’ then you hold fast on those requirements unless something changes, and then you bring it back to the chief and the senior leaders to approve that change,” Wins said. “Nobody else below the chief should have the ability to change that requirement.”

The same concept should apply to resourcing once the service’s top officer commits to a certain level of funding for program development, he said.

In an ideal situation, “nobody gets to pull away, nobody gets to cut, nobody gets to cause that program to stretch over time if it’s not approved by the chief of staff of the Army,” he said.

It would be useful for senior uniformed Army leaders to be more hands on when it comes to overseeing acquisition strategies, including areas such as program evaluation and the requirements and limits of testing, Wins said.

It might not be feasible for the chief to play such a large role across the board, he noted.  “He’s not probably able to do it for every program, but [he could do it for] the key programs that the Army says are needed to fight and win,” he said.

The calls for greater authority came after Milley sent a report to Congress earlier this month arguing for legislative changes that would give the Army more control over technology readiness certification, testing determination, independent cost assessment, analysis of alternative approval and reprogramming. These authorities currently reside within the office of the secretary of defense.

Maj. Gen. Robert “Bo” Dyess, deputy director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center at U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, criticized what he sees as excessive Pentagon meddling in Army acquisition programs.

“I’ve seen programs that have had an acquisition strategy that was developed, agreed to and the Army resourced, and then it goes to the next level and the acquisition strategy totally changes,” he said. “That’s going to add probably two years to the delivery of that capability to units.”

The office of the secretary of defense has been too involved in dictating Army testing, he said.

“I do believe the requirements that the Army develops should be tested. But there shouldn’t be extra requirements added to the Army and the testing directed to be done towards that,” Dyess said.

Milley has called for a stronger acquisition hand — not only at the Defense Department — but within the Army itself. Such a power shift could come at the expense of the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, or other officials, Milley has suggested. The proposed changes would save time and money and put capabilities into the hands of the warfighter more quickly, he has argued.

In the controversial struggle for acquisition authority, observers in the military and industry are interested to see where things will ultimately shake out.

“We tend we do things in extremes,” Miller said. “We say [the chief] can’t have a voice and then we say he’s got to own everything. It’s going to be somewhere in the middle. Gen. Milley has taken an active interest. He is making his voice heard. And it is appropriate, at least from my foxhole.”

Photo: Army

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Budget, DOD Leadership

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