Pentagon Acquisition Reform: Quits, Fits, and Edits
DID has covered a number of efforts, inquiries, and discussions regarding defense acquisition reform. With bipartisan Congressional concern still revving hot over the Defense Procurement Cost Spiral, this issue isn’t going away.
Today, DID features three items that touch on this topic. One is about Ernie Fitzgerald, who beat Richard Nixon but had less luck with the acquisition system. Another is an article in the U.S. Naval Institute’s February 2006 Proceedings magazine from 50-year acquisition veteran Thomas Christie, whose positions included DoD Director of Operational Test and Evaluation. He asks: “What Has 35 Years of Acquisition Reform Accomplished?” Finally, we have a short bit on the revolving door between the Pentagon and weapons contractors, and the fate of a recent Senate ethics provision.
Pathbreaking USAF whistleblower Ernie Fitzgerald may have beaten Richard Nixon in the end, and he had people like Sen. Charles Grassley [R-IA] hail his efforts to curb wasteful spending at an official Senate retirement event. So what words of satisfaction did he have for the folks at GovExec.com, as he looked back over his 40 years of procurement reform efforts?
“I’ve been defeated… I’ve lost. I’m 80 years old. I’m not going to win this year or next… Procurement is less efficient today than ever.”
Which leads to the question “why?” Especially after all the attempts at reform.
Few people today know more about how the Pentagon buys hardware than Thomas Christie. He has 50 years of professional experience in the DoD acquisition labyrinth, including a stint as as the Pentagon’s top weapons tester (Director of Operational Test and Evaluation). In the February 2006 issue of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings Magazine, he looks at all the reform attempts: The 1981 Carlucci Acquisition Initiatives. David Packard’s 1986 Blue Ribbon Commission. President George H.W. Bush’s 1989 Defense Management Review. Not one but two Defense Science Board Studies on how to “streamline” the process in 1990 and 1994. A Total System Performance Responsibility reform in the late 1990s, and two new concepts of acquisition termed “Capabilities-Based Acquisition” and “Spiral Development” under Donald Rumsfeld.
Yet many observers – inclusing Donald Rumsfeld – say the system still isn’t working properly. Christie says there is no need for new regulations or reorganizations. While certainly not perfect, those are not the core of the problem. So what is? For Christie’s answer, read “What Has 35 Years of Acquisition Reform Accomplished?” [PDF format]
DID has briefly touched on the revolving door between the Pentagon and weapons contractors before, in “In Through the Out Door.” In May 2005, The Senate Armed Services Committee approved a reporting provision re: of former defense officials or military officers who received compensation from contractors who do more than $10 million of business with the Pentagon. The ethics plan was approved unanimously by the Senate in its version of the defense authorization bill. Then the contractor disclosure provisions and related ethics rules silently disappeared in a House-Senate conference committee. GovExec.com has the story.