A Foundation for Future Progress in Acquisition Reform

There is a general consensus that more can be done to enhance the federal procurement system.

Cost overruns, slow and highly bureaucratic acquisition processes, and canceled programs continue to be a challenge in space.

However, a new report from the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), called a “Path to Transformation,” offers some actionable recommendations for potentially solving this ongoing issue.

As a recent National Defense Magazine article pointed out, the report recommends that more authority be given to decision-makers, and that they should be held accountable for their decisions. In addition, the 72-page documents stated that resources should match requirements, and that decisions should be based on “hard data.”

Written by Jonathan Etherton – an industry consultant and former Senate staff member with 20 years of defense procurement experience – the article suggests that the report is not a silver bullet, but offers a “foundation for future progress.”

In March 2014, Senate and House defense committees asked the Department of Defense, (DoD) and industry groups to weigh in with recommendations for dealing with the $300 billion in cost overruns from the top 100 programs, as well as the $50 billion in canceled programs over the past 10 years.

As the National Defense article highlights, administrative and regulatory reforms at the DoD – such as the Better Buying Power 3.0 initiative – will not be enough.

The solution? Putting the onus on Congress to rewrite current laws.

“Our focus was predominantly on what the Congress could and should do through legislation,” says Will Goodman, policy director at NDIA who worked with Etherton on the acquisition reform proposal. “Like the Congress, Frank Kendall is determined to improve the acquisition process and its outcomes, and all of our recommendations would require a strong partnership between the Congress and Pentagon to be implemented effectively.”

The NDIA report offers the following suggestions:

  • Increase the responsibility of the service chiefs in linking the requirements, acquisition, and budget processes. The chiefs should be held accountable for requirements validation, rather than the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, a multi-service committee.
  • Changes should be made in the management of both the civilian and military acquisition workforces, making the acquisition profession more attractive to capable and talented military personnel. The report recommends more collaboration between government auditors and vendors, and close oversight of that process by Congress.
  • The Defense Department should take advantage of “big data” advances in automated information collection and analysis to improve the quality and reduce the manual burden of acquisition program reporting requirements.

Already, Congress has added language to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) calling on the Secretary of Defense to consider designating the Commander of the Air Force Command’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) as the DoD’s single acquisition agent for wideband satellite communications by 2017. The language calls the current process “ad hoc” and “not strategically and efficiently aligned with the acquisition of military wideband satellite communications.”

Reforming today’s acquisition processes is a vital imperative. We hope that Congress listens to these NDIA recommendations, and that combined with BBP 3.0, we will have new procurement processes that allow our nation to be the innovation leader that it needs to be in space.

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