Over the last few years, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Levin and I have developed a number of initiatives that reform various aspects of the defense procurement process.
Our hope is that, in the aggregate, those initiatives, including those that help control the proliferation of non-essential requirements; have the Department of Defense (DoD) move towards more fixed price-type contracts while incentivizing performance; and subject major systems to a more evolutionary, knowledge-based procurement process, will have a beneficial effect on the process—as a system.
I am under no delusion that a single “silver bullet” will remedy a fundamentally broken defense acquisition system.
The “Weapon System Acquisition Reform Act of 2009”, which I am pleased to introduce with Chairman Levin today, is an important next step in efforts to reform the system.
Consensus has emerged that a key to defense acquisition programs’ performing successfully is getting things right from the start—with sound systems engineering, cost-estimating, and developmental testing early in the program cycle. Doing so helps the DoD understand and mete out costly technology - and integration - risk out of programs early—before the DoD makes important go/no-go decisions on the program that effectively put it “on rails”.
We have learned this lesson the hard way—at great cost to the taxpayer. Typically, major weapons have been procured with insufficient systems engineering knowledge about critical technologies. But, with those weapons programs having, by a certain point, acquired often overwhelming political momentum, Nunn-McCurdy (basically only a reporting requirement) has done very little to bring costs associated with those originally underappreciated risks under control.
We now know that when a program is predictable, that is, when decision milestones are being met; estimated costs are actual costs; and performance to contract specifications and key performance parameters are achieved, the acquisition process can be relied on as providing the joint warfighter with optimal capability at the most reasonable cost to the taxpayer.
The bill that I am introducing with Chairman Levin today appreciates that fact—by focusing on starting programs right. It does so by emphasizing systems engineering; more effective upfront planning and management of technology risk; and growing the acquisition workforce to meet program objectives.
A particularly important feature of the bill includes a provision that puts Nunn-McCurdy “on dynamite”. That provision requires, among other things, that programs currently underway (post-Milestone B) experiencing “critical” cost growth either be terminated or enter the new defense acquisition system, which the DoD recently and fundamentally restructured to help it manage technology and integration risk. In so doing, Chairman Levin and I hope to transform Nunn-McCurdy from a mere reporting requirement into a tool that can help the DoD manage out-of-control cost growth.
While I am pleased to be introducing this legislation with Chairman Levin, we certainly must, and will, do more. That having been said, the primary responsibility to reform the process falls on the DoD itself. No amount of legislation can substitute for a true commitment to acquisition reform within the Pentagon.
I look forward to seeing the White House convey that commitment—through deeds—going forward.