Lawmaker sics federal watchdog on Army acquisitions

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is forcing the Army’s acquisition workforce to answer some tough questions. The ranking member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations requested that the Government Accountability Office assess the Army’s contracting process, including accountability and oversight.

“Given these ongoing concerns,” McCaskill said in the April 11 letter, citing a series of reports from the GAO dating back to 2008 regarding the Defense Department’s acquisition workforce, “I believe it is necessary for GAO to assess how the Army is currently managing and overseeing its contracting process.”

Included in this assessment, McCaskill wants to know details on how the Army is organized to manage its contracting process, how accountability is maintained, how is workflow and oversight managed, and what metrics are used to assess the outcomes.

The most recent GAO report cited in the senator’s letter, published Jan. 28, revolved around Army contracting officials improperly invoking certain clauses. The report pointed to an “inexperienced and overwhelmed acquisition workforce” as one of the main factors. GAO recommended that the Army provide training and issue a formal reminder to all relevant personnel about the proper use of the contracts in question. DoD concurred with those suggestions.

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In December 2015, GAO published another report about the DoD’s acquisition workforce. It said that while the workforce grew from “about 126,000 in September 2008 to about 153,000 in March 2015,” the contracting field fell short of its target by almost 2,000 personnel.

In addition, the report found that while “DoD is required by statute to develop an acquisition workforce plan every two years,” at that time they had not updated their current plan since 2010.

In 2015, Congress passed a National Defense Authorization Act that granted acquisition powers to the military chiefs, including oversight. Army Chief Gen. Mark Milley immediately put that authority to use by restoring the Army Requirements Oversight Council, which he personally chairs.

“Gen. Milley has made clear to us that there are only two people who can define the Army’s requirements: the chief of staff and the vice chief of staff,” Gen. John Murray, deputy chief of staff, said in 2015.

The Army has had difficulties with acquisitions in the past. The Decker-Wagner report, released in 2011, said that the Army terminated 15 major acquisition programs between 2001 and 2011, and spent at least $1 billion per year on systems that were never completed.

However, by 2012, the Army was saying that its acquisition troubles were a thing of the past. After the Decker-Wagner report, Army acquisitions underwent major reforms, which resulted in a number of projects finally being delivered.

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