Ashton Carter, who was sworn in as the undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics on Monday, said Thursday that much of what would have been his first order of duty was accomplished during the lead-up to Defense Secretary Robert Gates' release of the department's budget request in early April. Gates recommended major changes in the Pentagon's procurement priorities, including cuts to a number of programs.
Nonetheless, Carter said examining troubled programs and acting on Gates' plan is his first priority. The new acquisition chief plans to review all the department's projects gradually to ensure they are being properly executed.
His second focus will be on logistics, an area he said sometimes is overlooked. With two ongoing wars and a major shift in combat operations, Carter said, attention to logistics will be crucial.
"What's ringing in my ears is the secretary of Defense's often-expressed frustration that the troops are at war but the building as a whole is not," Carter said. "I don't want him to feel that way about his acquisition operation and logistics operation."
Among the greatest challenges will be refocusing resources from Iraq to Afghanistan in President Obama's timeframe.
"We have quite a lot of stuff to move out of Iraq and into Afghanistan … that's a non-trivial matter both to conceive and to execute, and we can't afford not to meet those timetables," Carter said.
Acquisition reform will be another priority, he noted. Carter already is looking into the appropriate role of contractors "from Blackwater security in theater to pink badges at the Pentagon" and said he wants to improve the government's ability to acquire products quickly. Presidential and congressional interest in reforms will be an asset, he said.
"If it is going to be different than other efforts at acquisition reform, it's going to be because of that constellation of people who are interested in taking some risk to do things differently if they can see the payoff," Carter said.
Carter acknowledged the acquisition workforce challenges are "formidable" in a range of Defense offices, including his own. While building a robust, qualified staff will not happen overnight, he said, it is crucial to begin making strides.
"It's a big job to spend this much money on things that are so complicated in such a novel way," he said. "Nobody else buys things the way the United States government buys things, so it's an art to do it right, and you need a lot of the right people."