[NDIA] US Defense Logistics Undersecretary Can’t Fake Enthusiasm
Ed. note: This entry is part of DID’s coverage of the NDIA’s National Logistics Forum 2013.
Lou Kratz, Chairman of NDIA Logistics Management Division and a Vice President of Logistics and Sustainment at Lockheed Martin, introduced the event with an assertive view of American overwhelming force and power projection, facing an immediate insidious threat (i.e. terrorists and insurgents) with a peer competitor (the official euphemism for China) rising over the long run. The rest of the morning unfolded with more reserved speakers who tried, but not always succeeded, in convincing industry attendants that there’s light at the end of the tunnel in a context of not just declining, but more importantly messed up budgets.
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Logistics and Materiel Readiness Alan Estevez started his keynote by jokingly welcoming attendants to Miami, the city where the event was originally scheduled, back in the good old days when sequestration was not supposed to happen. His overall outlook though was “pretty depressing” by his own admission, because there is “no dumber way to do things” than sequestration. But the undersecretary acknowledged that by now DoD is budgeting with the sequester in mind, so at least budget planning will improve from the recent mayhem.
Because sequestration is so far not unfolding as the dramatic rain of locusts originally promised by the Administration, but rather as a “slow ramp to hell”, Estevez seemed to go through the motions of wishing for Congressional relief while implicitly expecting more of the same. His perspective: “there is no constituency for readiness outside of DoD.” Among the budget work that does need to be done: a new BRAC. (That became a theme in the following panel, to be covered in a forthcoming DID entry.)
DoD’s recent Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR, pronounced “skimmer”) has been completed, and the options considered by that panel didn’t look pretty. SCMR was not meant to issue a budget though, and that’s all Estevez would say as “the first rule of SCMR is, you don’t speak about SCMR.”
Back to logistics per se, Estevez described the drawdown out of Iraq as an “easy piece of work” compared to Afghanistan, because Iraq at least has a modicum of infrastructure. The first phase of the process, known as the retrograde, is focused on shipping back to the US military equipment that will go through reset and see further use. They expect this to be mostly done by the end of 2013. Properly closing bases will take until 2015, and there’s a whole “leave or ship” conundrum that needs to be taken under consideration. DoD is “not going to bring back paper plates or bandage”, and with about 100,000 containers in Afghanistan, there is a lot of stuff to look through. Not just consumables though: some military equipment will be donated to Afghanistan, and some might be sold to nearby allies, depending on the future needs of US forces.
The subject of Better Buying Power 2.0 came up, with its affordability caps (“don’t buy a Maserati if you can’t afford to maintain a Maserati”) and should cost/will cost approach. Expect to see more Performance Based Logistics (PBL) contracts, though a member of the audience (working for a prime contractor) expressed concerns about the time it takes to put them together. Estevez expects Product Support Managers to help with that. Without naming it, Mr. Estevez echoed findings of the Commission on Wartime Contracting, by saying that operational contract support should be put in place with institutionalized oversight to prevent and detect fraud. DoD is working on several guidance documents for its industry partners, including cyber-security expectations and a cost guide.
Estevez tried to cheer up his speech by praising the logistics community for its accomplishments, while recognizing that high availability and quick deliveries involved high costs and lots of inventory. However Mr. Estevez concluded by urging private contractors to “put up these firewalls” and secure even their low-level facilities against cyber intrusions. The government should know, given the low-raking sources of the Wiki- and NSA leaks. Overall, after years of doom-mongering by top DoD officials (roughly, the Panetta era), this was a more subdued, resigned speech. (We’ll try to lighten up the mood: maybe the Undersecretary was just miffed after searching his name in Google Images?)