Kendall: Reorganizing Senior DoD Positions Doesn’t Solve Anything

By Stew Magnuson
Frank Kendall

Former Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall, in one of his first public speeches since leaving the Pentagon, explained in further detail why he doesn't like the idea of busting up his former position into three separate jobs. 

 “I don’t think there is a problem being solved here,” he said March 23 at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Robotic Capabilities conference in Springfield, Virginia.

The National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 required the Defense Department to break up the AT&L position into three undersecretaries: research and engineering; acquisitions and sustainment; and management. The change came at the behest of Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who argued that the acquisition system had grown too large for any one person to manage.

“The department is in kind of damage limitation mode on what the NDAA did,” he said, noting that it was nice to speak freely now that he has left the job.

The first iteration of the AT&L job was created by similar legislation in 1986. It replaced the director of research and engineering. “Logistics” was added to the title in 1990.

The changes were made back then because the system was not working, Kendall said. Early research and development phases were under one undersecretary. Production and sustainment phases fell under somebody else. “That did not work,” he said.

The research and engineering undersecretary was all about technology. “It was not on cost controls. It was not on the business deals we got.”

There are benefits to having one person in the office of the secretary of defense having control over the complete lifecycle of a weapon system, he said. “The development phase, the production phase and the sustainment phase should all be under the same management.”

A fragmented organization will create more bureaucracy for the military services, he said. They will have to go to three different secretaries who will all have some degree of authority over them, he added.

“It’s not a good thing. The idea in my mind is to make it the least of a bad thing that we can manage,” he said. In that light, before leaving the Pentagon, he wrote a memo recommending that the research and engineering job focus on science and technology and experimental prototyping “end of the spectrum, but not on programs of record. The reorganization should be executed by personnel who “truly understand how the organizations work,” he said.

The system “was working effectively,” he said. “I think frankly people want to do something different, and they did. And now the department has to figure out how they are going to manage their way through that.”

Kendall didn’t think the reorganization will result in a new different acquisition regime. “There isn’t some other magic way to do it.” He maintained that the bureaucracy isn’t why acquisition programs are drawn out. “The reasons programs take so long is because they are hard to do.”

For example, the F-35 had a lot of hard software programs to write. The department could have managed the milestone timing decisions better, he acknowledged.

Despite his misgivings, Kendall said at the end of the day, it’s leadership that matters.

“You can still get innovation. It is more about who you have in the position than about the scope of the control,” he said. Former Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter had a physics degree and lots of policy experience. Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work brought operational experience and a keen interest in science and technology to the table. The two, along with himself, were in lockstep when it came to policies and initiatives such as Better Buying Power, the shift to the Pacific and the third offset strategy, Kendall said.

“Breaking it up and not breaking it up doesn’t really affect that. It’s people and leadership at the end of the day that have a lot more to do with what gets done,” Kendall said.

The success of the future undersecretaries “depends entirely upon the degree of support that person has from the secretary,” Kendall said.


Topics: Defense Department

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