Acquisitions Improvements Need Permanence, Carter Says

WASHINGTON, March 28, 2011 — With spring com­ing in Afghanistan, the Defense Depart­ment is set to per­form the same “remark­able” work it con­duct­ed in last year’s troop surge to get warfight­ers every­thing they need while work­ing to insti­tu­tion­al­ize those pro­ce­dures, the department’s under­sec­re­tary for acqui­si­tions, tech­nol­o­gy and logis­tics told a con­gres­sion­al­ly estab­lished com­mis­sion today.

The Pentagon’s logis­tics com­mu­ni­ty “per­formed a mir­a­cle” in get­ting warfight­ers in Afghanistan every­thing they need­ed between Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s troop surge direc­tive in Decem­ber 2009 and the arrival of the last of the surge troops in August, Ash­ton B. Carter told the Com­mis­sion on Wartime Con­tract­ing in Iraq and Afghanistan, a bipar­ti­san pan­el cre­at­ed as part of the fis­cal 2008 Nation­al Defense Autho­riza­tion Act.

Defense Depart­ment offi­cials have worked close­ly with the com­mis­sion in imple­ment­ing Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates’ ini­tia­tives to improve the acqui­si­tions process while safe­guard­ing tax­pay­er dol­lars, Carter said.

“We are work­ing off the same list of chal­lenges: to com­bat waste, fraud and abuse in con­tin­gency con­tract­ing; root out cor­rup­tion; get con­trol of the par­tic­u­lar risks of pri­vate secu­ri­ty con­trac­tors; and, above all, to bal­ance the effec­tive response to warfight­er needs and tax­pay­er dol­lars,” he said.

“Fail­ure to do so not only amounts to theft from the tax­pay­er, but theft from those who put them­selves in harm’s way to pro­tect us,” Carter added.

Still, Carter said, “it’s fair to say we’ve not done con­tin­gency con­tract­ing as well as the tax­pay­er and the warfight­er deserve.”

When he accept­ed his cur­rent posi­tion two years ago, Gates told him, “The troops are at war and the Pen­ta­gon is not -– espe­cial­ly your part,” Carter said.

“I took that to heart and have been try­ing to make that not so over the past two years,” he added.

Depart­ment offi­cials are doing every­thing pos­si­ble to field every­thing troops need to make them safe and suc­cess­ful in Afghanistan, Carter said. That includes mak­ing per­ma­nent “the con­stel­la­tion of ad hoc process­es” that allows the depart­ment to get around out­dat­ed, bureau­crat­ic pro­ce­dures to deliv­er equip­ment and sup­plies quick­ly, he said.

For exam­ple, Carter said, he and oth­ers have suc­cess­ful­ly appealed to Con­gress to “repro­gram,” or shift mon­ey with­in its appro­pri­a­tions, to fund need­ed items. The annu­al bud­get cycle, he explained, was designed to plan for war, not to con­duct war.

“We have to cre­ate a fast lane for con­tin­gency acqui­si­tions,” he said. “We’re con­stant­ly hotwiring and work­ing around. That is not sat­is­fac­to­ry. We need a bet­ter sys­tem.”

Through the workarounds, the depart­ment was able to field requests for more and improved air­craft for intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance, as well as for impro­vised explo­sive device detec­tors and the all-ter­rain ver­sion of mine-resis­tant, ambush-pro­tect­ed vehi­cles, the under­sec­re­tary said.

On his pri­or­i­ty for sav­ing pub­lic mon­ey, Carter said every­one con­nect­ed to the Defense Depart­ment must face the real­i­ty of flat­ten­ing bud­gets.

“We don’t antic­i­pate, and cer­tain­ly we don’t plan, to see the defense bud­get go down in any way like it did in the 1990s,” he said. “After all, we are a coun­try at war, and we can­not com­pro­mise on the capa­bil­i­ties we now plan. At the same time, we do not expect the dou­ble-dig­it annu­al gains like we’ve had since 9/11.

“Flat is going to feel very dif­fer­ent to us for­ev­er upward,” he added. “The sec­re­tary wants us to begin to adjust to the new era.”

To make that adjust­ment, Carter has direct­ed acqui­si­tions man­agers to always con­sid­er what prod­ucts and ser­vices should cost ver­sus what com­pa­nies say they will cost; to demand com­pe­ti­tion in all con­tract­ing; and to con­sid­er “pro­duc­tiv­i­ty growth” –- that items improve over time, while becom­ing less expen­sive.

“None of that mat­ters if we don’t have good peo­ple exe­cut­ing it,” Carter said. “We over­steered in the past decade in down­siz­ing the acqui­si­tion work­force.”

Offi­cials are work­ing to add near­ly 1,500 acqui­si­tions man­age­ment and sup­port posi­tions, he added.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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