Pentagon official seeks support for contracting initiatives

Possible consequences of not acting include broken or canceled programs and market uncertainty, acquisition executive says.

The Pentagon's top acquisition executive told an Air Force audience Wednesday that implementing the set of sweeping acquisition reforms was essential because without them, the nation could not give the troops the capabilities they need as defense budgets get tighter.

And to the Air Force officers and industry representatives in the audience, Ashton Carter said those who hope the department will be unable to achieve the proposed reforms, "you have to consider the alternatives."

Carter listed as potential consequences: broken or canceled programs, "uncertainty and turbulence in the budget, market uncertainty, difficulty for industry, erosion in the confidence of the taxpayer that they are getting value for their dollars ... and foregone military capabilities."

But on the positive side, Carter said part of the acquisition improvement effort was to "incentivize productivity and innovation in industry" and that "profit is a perfectly appropriate topic" for the defense acquisition executives.

The day after he and Defense Secretary Robert Gates outlined the 23 changes to the contracting process at a Pentagon news briefing, Carter, the undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, told the Air Force Association conference at the National Harbor convention center that the challenge would be implementation.

The acquisition reforms had received a generally favorable review earlier in the day from Aerospace Industry Association President Marion Blakey, who told the AFA audience that many of the initiatives matched the industry's recommendations.

And as Carter was speaking, the two leaders of the House Armed Services Committee's acquisition reform panel issued a statement endorsing the new effort.

"We applaud Secretary Gates and Dr. Carter for tackling acquisition reform and for embracing many of the reforms identified in our panel's report and in the House-passed IMPROVE Acquisition Act to meet this end," said Reps. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., and Mike Conaway, R-Texas. They said the Pentagon initiatives made it even more important that the Senate pass the House-approved bill.

Carter told the AFA audience that an improved acquisition was necessary because the defense budget was expected to rise only slightly in real terms in future years.

With an end to the double-digit annual increases of the last nine years, he said, the Pentagon leaders concluded "we can't support the troops with the capabilities they need unless we learn to deliver better value for the defense dollars and thereby achieve the programs we need with the dollars that the taxpayers can afford to give us."

Carter expressed confidence they could achieve their objectives to save $100 billion over five years from "low value-added activities" so the funds could be shifted to the needs of the warfighters.

He said he was confident of success because they are "reasonable objectives, come at end of a decade of very rapid growth" and have the support of the president, the secretary and Congress.

Carter praised the Air Force secretary, chief of staff and acquisition executive for leading the way on procurement reform, citing their improvements in maintaining the nation's nuclear weapons system and the effort to build a long-range strike capability at an affordable price.

Addressing a program of high interest for the Air Force, Carter said he could not tell them when officials would announce a winner of the competition to build a new refueling tanker.

"It's not a secret; it's unknown. It will be done when it's done. We're working very hard to get it right," he said, reflecting a decade of mistakes and scandal surrounding the program.