Former Defense leaders call for simpler acquisition system

The Pentagon could achieve better contracting outcomes if Congress removed burdensome layers of bureaucracy, former top Defense Department officials told a House panel on Wednesday.

On the heels of the passage of one of the largest weapons procurement reform measures in two decades, the House Armed Services Committee's Defense Acquisition Reform Panel went back to work examining the lack of integration between the Defense agencies that develop program requirements, establish budgets and implement contracts.

Panel Chairman Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., said poor coordination is responsible for a growing gap between what the government pays for and what it receives in Defense acquisitions. But, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish said the problem did not pop up overnight and there is no simple solution. Past efforts to improve the acquisition system, he said, have added unnecessary rules and processes and created unmanageable expectations.

"In an effort to improve the system, we have made it almost unintelligibly complex," said Kadish, who now serves as a vice president of the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. "And, this complexity is an albatross around our neck."

Kadish warned the panel that any legislative fix that "adds to the rule book without taking something away does not help the process."

Panel members seemed to get the message. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., invited Kadish to "strike sections of the rule book with a red pen." Kadish seemed intrigued by the offer and said he would accept the challenge "if he had the time."

Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England noted a need to synchronize the Pentagon's overarching purchasing needs, but said doing so would require providing agency managers with increased flexibility and industry stakeholders with greater budgetary stability for their contracts.

The No. 2 official at the Pentagon during President George W. Bush's second term, England recommended making greater use of multiyear contracts for programs with mature technologies that are unlikely to experience significant requirement changes. Ret. Navy Adm. Edmund Giambastiani pointed to contracts for the F-18 Super Hornet aircraft, Navy destroyers and Virginia-class submarines as examples of multiyear agreements that fit such criteria.

Giambastiani, chairman of the board of directors at Alenia North America, an aerospace firm, said if the government is "ruthless" in its risk assessment early on, then upgrades will be easier to implement later in the process.

Other reforms England suggested include allowing Defense to build a budgetary reserve that could be used when contract requirements and costs change and altering the hiring system to recruit more experienced acquisition professionals.

Implementing these "incremental changes" would "immediately help operations and have a meaningful effect," England said.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.