NDIA President on Defense Acquisition Reform
Over at National Defense Magazine, US National Defense Industry Association (NDIA) President Lawrence P. Farrell Jr. talks about the Defense Acquisition Performance Assessment (DAPA) reform project, which DID has covered. Despite the improvements made over the last 20 years – and there have been many of them – this was certainly a sobering set of statistics:
“Currently, more than 80 new major weapon systems are under development, with a combined cost growth of $300 billion and total acquisition cost of nearly $1.5 trillion. A recent Government Accountability Office study of 26 major acquisition programs suggests the top five programs have nearly doubled in cost during the last four years – in fact, skyrocketing from $281 billion to $521 billion. The trend is not abating – estimates of cost growth and development time of these same five programs grew 14.3 percent and 5.5 percent, respectively, in the past year alone, according to GAO. After more than 20 years of numerous attempts to improve the acquisition system, the perception is that no reforms have addressed systemic weaknesses in structure, process and governance of major weapon systems development.”
Reading that, it’s hard to disagree. Some of Farrell’s thoughts include:
- The issues DAPA is addressing fall into the category of “lessons we had already learned.”
- The recommendations offered to DAPA in recent hearings include many of the same suggestions that have been offered in years past: Stabilize program funding, improve cost estimating and requirements management, bolster the acquisition corps by creating an independent systems engineering organization within the Defense Department, encourage early industry participation, effectively use performance-based contracts, better recognize risks, and provide proper incentives to contractors.
The Project On Government Oversight also has some thoughts along these lines, and links to more of same. Some examples of the criteria they list for program success include:
- Only one, maybe two leap-ahead technologies allowed per program. The rest of the program has to rely on stuff we’ve already done before, proven technology and concepts.
- Congress must not care about it. If it hates it, it will cut it and ruin program stability, particularly in the early years where it’s needed most. If it loves it, it’ll add unneeded money and unrealistic demands on the program. The best programs are always the ones that Congress keeps their noses out of.
- The program must be small enough to fail. That last one is probably the most important one of all.
DID has covered the defense procurement spiral and tendency of the US Defense Department to begin more programs than its budget can afford, as well as bi-partisan legislative concern at rising weapons costs, efforts at organizational defense transformation, and acquisition reform efforts.
We’re currently looking at at a couple of new GAO reports which sketch out the present situation in fairly stark terms. While Mr. Farrell’s suggestions are all worthy, it appears to us here that the problem is somewhat deeper than he believes to be the case – and more systemic than POGO believes as well. We’re currently working on an article that puts those reports together with additional analyses, draws on some of the items we’ve been covering here on DID as examples, and tries to illustrate some of those underlying mechanisms.