Five questions about DoD acquisition

House panel to take shot at fixing long-standing problems.

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor

The House Armed Services Committee’s new acquisition panel is going to try to do what so many others have tried unsuccessfully before: fix the Defense Department’s procurement system.

Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.), chairman of the panel, says the goal of the new group is to develop legislative changes for the 2011 Defense Authorization bill.

“If prior legislative efforts were successful, we would not have the problems we do,” he says. “Present law does not fix the problems.”

The panel will hold its first hearing April 1 at 7:30 a.m. on how to measure the value and efficiency of the Defense acquisition system.

Andrews says the panel will try to answer five basic questions over the course of the at least the next six months:

  • How can we quantify the shortfall that exists between the money we are spending and the value we are getting?
  • Why does this shortfall exist?
  • What are the institutional and culture pressures that helped to create that gap within the department, services and in Congress?
  • What ideas have been advanced that could fix the problem?
  • Which recommendations should we embrace and put into law?

“The first thing we want to do is build on reams and volumes of work already done,” he says. “We want to sharpen our focus to ask questions about why were the recommendations not implemented. We want to bring in experts, the people who ran the programs and the people who supported them, including vendors, military uniform people and academics and scholars as well as forensic accountants.”

The House Armed Services Committee’s effort is among a growing focus on acquisition over the past two months.

President Barack Obama announced March 4 efforts to reform the federal acquisition process.

Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) also are taking a long look at procurement. McCaskill is leading an ad hoc contracting panel for the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, while Levin and McCain introduced a bill to reform how DoD buys major weapons systems.

The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing March 3 on the bill, and will mark up the bill April 2.

Andrews says the McCain-Levin bill is an “excellent starting point” to address the weapons piece of DoD acquisition. He, however, wants to go further.

“The panel will focus across all of DoD procurement,” he says. “Major weapons systems are a major part of the problem, but the problems are not exclusive of that issue. DoD spends 60 percent of its budget on services and 40 percent on hardware and not all of that is for major weapons systems. So we will look at the entire spectrum of DoD purchasing.”

He adds that he anticipates the House will work with the Senate through the normal legislative process and does not know whether the Senate will set up a similar panel.


On the Web:

FederalNewsRadio – GAO: Reforming DOD weapon buys will be challenging

FederalNewsRadio – House Armed Services sets up acquisition panel

White House – Contracting reform memo

House Armed Services Committee – Acquisition panel announcement

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