Defense official discourages technological overreach in contracts

William Lynn warns against always striving for new and “exotic” technologies on large acquisitions.

The Pentagon must resist the urge to require new and "exotic" technologies in massive acquisitions, Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn told lawmakers on Wednesday.

In his first appearance before lawmakers since being confirmed, Lynn told the House Armed Services Committee that, with the best of intentions, the department often aims to make tremendous technological strides in large procurement programs. Attaching excessive technological requirements, however, often leads to massive cost and scheduling overruns, he said.

"We have a tendency to reach for the exotic technology that looks like [it allows for] the highest performance," Lynn said. "It's appealing on a PowerPoint slide, but unfortunately, we need the engineering and technological maturity to make it happen and we don't always have that."

A related challenge is ensuring that contracts don't call for technology that doesn't exist. While a requirement may be "good to have," acquiring the technology or engineering capacity to meet it could cost more or take longer than it is worth, he said.

Lynn named these technology-related issues as the leading cause of schedule delays and cost overruns, but said the key to reforming the department's acquisition processes is people. The budget Defense plans to submit on Thursday will propose a 20,000 person increase in the acquisition workforce between fiscal 2010 and 2015, he said.

"In the absence of these personnel, we've outsourced too many functions that should be performed inside the department," he told lawmakers. "These new positions will ensure that DoD knows what it's buying and gets what it pays for."

While Lynn steered clear of commenting specifically on the Defense acquisition bills pending in both chambers of Congress, he cited the downsizing of the contracting workforce starting in the 1990s as an example of reforms gone awry.

The House will mark up the 2009 Weapons Acquisition System Reform Through Enhancing Technical Knowledge and Oversight Act (H.R. 2101) on Thursday and the Senate considered a similar bill on Wednesday.

"We think both bills move in the right direction, and we're just discussing here how best to do it," Lynn said.