USA — Department Hires Acquisitions Workers to Help Reforms

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.

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