Pentagon acquisition nominee faces tough questions

Kenneth Krieg, the president's nominee to be the Pentagon's chief weapons buyer, faced tough questions from senators Thursday about defense acquisition, including a call to rein in program cost growth and schedule delays, as well as the need to foster more competition in the defense industry.

Krieg, currently the Defense Department's director of program analysis and evaluation, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that, if confirmed, he would work with Congress to reduce acquisition cycle times, control costs and breathe new life into the defense industry, in particular the increasingly anemic U.S. shipbuilding industrial base.

"I hope you come up with some innovative program of your own to reach out to this industrial base and engage them," Senate Armed Services Chairman Warner told Krieg, adding that some effort should be made to make defense research and development programs more profitable for industry while shifting some of the government's risk in such efforts to the private sector.

Krieg fielded more pointed questions from Sens. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, regarding acquisition programs specific to their districts.

Collins asked whether Krieg supports the decision of Michael Wynne, the Pentagon's current acquisition chief, to halt the Navy's plan to compete a contract award for its DD(X) next-generation destroyer between the nation's two shipyards in Maine and Mississippi.

Chambliss pressed Krieg to show support for the Air Force F/A-22 stealth fighter and the need to buy more of the aircraft to reduce per unit costs. In its fiscal 2006 budget, the Pentagon proposed a reduction in the quantity of F/A-22 aircraft to be purchased.

Krieg acknowledged that the program has improved over the past 18 months and said he was satisfied with its progress. But he avoided a direct answer to Chambliss' questions, offering to provide a more detailed response for the record.

Chambliss noted that Krieg will have to deal with such fundamental issues in his new post, particularly at a time when key decisions on major weapons systems, such as the F/A-22 and DD(X) must be determined.

"You're the guy that's going to have to deal with this," Chambliss said.

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