Update on Fixing Acquisition

By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor

Earlier, FederalNewsRadio told you of the ambitious goal of the House Armed Services Committee’s new acquisition panel: fix the Defense Department’s procurement system.

With one hearing down, Chairman of the reform panel, Rep. Robert Andrews (D – NJ), brings FederalNewsRadio up to speed on progress they’re making.

One thing that came from the hearing was an understanding there’s really three questions you have to ask in fairly measuring the difference between what we spend on a system and what value we get from it:

  • The first question is whether we conceived properly what we need. Sometimes there’s a chance you’re building something you don’t need at all and the value is really zero for the cost.
  • The second is whether the standards against which you measure the implementation of the procurement program are right or not. What we found with the GAO has also found is that very frequently there are unrealistic standards at the outset, so we underestimate the cost and we underestimate the time that something’s really going to take, probably in order to sell it to the congressional audience.
  • And then thirdly, you have to ask yourself the questions once you have a system conception in place and you have a baseline against which to measure the performance of those who are implementing it, how well are they doing? The caution I would give you is that cost over-runs are not always a function of bad implementation of a program: they’re very often a function of poor standards in the first place or of unrealistic standards going in.

Andrews says the acquisition workforce isn’t the problem, they’re the solution.

One of the things I want to make clear here: I think that Congress is very often at fault for these cost overruns. It’s politically expedient to point your finger at contractors or program managers. Very often though, because of parochial political pressures, we will order more of a system than we should, we won’t pay as much attention to the warning signals as we should, and we will advocate for continuing to spend money when we shouldn’t. So I think there are some institutional weaknesses that we have to look at ourselves in the House and Senate.

One of the biggest challenges ahead for the committee is how to figure out how to catch problems before they happen.

Once you start to build something, a constituency builds around it and it becomes a jobs question, a public works question, and not a question of cost efficiency for the services and for the tax payers. But if you get something earlier on, and it looks like it just is going to cost more than it’s been sold as or take more time or not work as well, then frankly the number of people who are literally invested in the project, that would have political leverage, is smaller and the possibility of turning it in a different direction is greater.

Next up for the panel, how to measure efficiency in other areas of Defense service. “We want to look at the whole service side of the equation as well as the hardware side,” says Andrews.

On the Web:

FederalNewsRadio – Five questions about DoD acquisition

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