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.

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