WASHINGTON — The Defense Department is making strides toward acquisition reform and budget reductions, starting with the buildup of its federal acquisitions work force, department officials told a congressional panel today.
The department created the Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation and has hired more than 3,000 employees since the end of March to improve its purchasing processes, John Roth, deputy comptroller for programs and budgets, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s national security subcommittee.
Acquisition reform is a key component of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ efforts to improve processes while also cutting overhead costs. Part of that reform calls for reducing the department’s use of contractors and replacing them with federal workers. The new hires are the first step in reducing contractors from 39 percent to 26 percent of the department’s work force, Roth said. Officials are requesting an additional $218 million in the fiscal 2011 budget to expand the reform efforts, he said.
“Good people are an essential element of any acquisition reform strategy,” said Nancy Spruill, the department’s director of acquisition resources and analysis, who also spoke before the subcommittee. “We’re committed to growing the work force. But, more than numbers, we are focused on quality. We are pleased that we’re attracting talented people every day to help us work on acquisition reform.”
In addition, Roth said, the secretary already had made “unprecedented cuts” to major weapons programs that are underperforming or over budget. Overall cost savings will be converted to sustain combat power and make future investments, he said.
“The department has had a change of emphasis,” Roth said. “That change is to a stronger, better-controlled business environment.”
The department has 102 major acquisitions programs, and is focusing its reforms on the ones in which it can intervene in the early stages, Spruill said. “We have an increased emphasis on the front end of the process,” she said, starting programs right, reviewing them early on and getting independent reviews.
Department officials are working hard to implement the reforms of the 2009 Weapons System Acquisition Reform Act and the provisions of reform legislation this year, Spruill said. “We have made support to the warfighter our highest priority, and we are improving the acquisitions work force,” she said.
Better systems engineering, technical maturity, and especially cost estimate improvements are driving reform, Spruill said, adding that cost estimates are the most difficult.
Michael J. Sullivan, the General Accountability Office’s director of acquisition and sourcing management, also spoke to the subcommittee, and outlined Defense Department progress on acquisition reform since the GAO reported in 2008 on problems in 42 programs. Acquisitions workers, he said, have done a good job of recognizing problems, and are on track to make long-term changes.
Under Gates’ leadership, Sullivan noted, 13 programs were removed from the department’s acquisitions portfolio at a cost savings of $179 billion.
Defense acquisitions problems have existed for decades, Sullivan said, but change is possible “when we have leadership in the department like we do now.”
“It boils down to accountability and leadership, and when leadership takes charge of things, things can happen,” he said.
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