31 ideas for reforming DoD contracting

The U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations asked 31 acquisition experts to weigh in on how the Defense acquisition process can be reformed. Federa...

How would you reform the Defense Department’s acquisition process? That’s what the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations asked 31 acquisition experts recently. Earlier this month, the subcommittee released Defense Acquisition Reform: Where do we go from here?”, a series of essays written by the 31 experts with their ideas for reform.

While the respondents reached consensus on some issues — two-thirds said acquisition workforce training and recruiting need to be improved — they also added their own perspective on the acquisition reform debate. Below are some of their responses to the five topic areas covered in the report.

This feature is part of Federal News Radio’s special report, Missing Pieces of Procurement Reform.


Michael J. Sullivan
Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management Team
U.S. Government Accountability Office

“These executives do not necessarily stay in their positions long enough to develop the long-term perspective or support to effectively manage and change long-held, traditional incentives. From the program manager position to the Under Secretary position, the department should take a hard look at the benefits of continuity and consistency of management principles and consider if changes should be made to change outcomes. This is important, not just to improve management, but to hold people accountable for their body of work.”

Katherine Schinasi
Independent Adviser

“Rarely is the question asked, ‘How much value are you getting for the money you spend?’ A measure that focuses on the outcome. Establishing measurable outcomes is the first step in accountability and can be used as a basis for deciding between competing demands. Yet, accountability in the acquisition culture is measured by inputs, never by outcomes.”

Elizabeth McGrath
Deloitte Consulting LLP

“Understanding the cost elements of a program should be of interest to everyone. It starts with the business case (Analysis of Alternatives) generated by the user community that articulates the mission need along the cost of current operations/capabilities. This is not simply the budgeted amounts for sustainment, but rather includes all cost associated with execution. Each member of the program office and all overseers should be knowledgeable in cost of a program.”


Sean J. Stackley
Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development and Acquisition)
United States Navy

“The large government bureaucracy that envelops defense acquisition discourages risk and thwarts rapid or even timely delivery when, in fact, the very nature of weapon systems development is risky, and the very pace of technology and of the threat, demand a faster, appropriate response. Given this environment, which is not prone to change, primary emphasis must be placed on the need for experienced, knowledgeable acquisition professionals who know how to work in the unique defense marketplace, who understand the technical dimensions of extraordinarily complex systems, who can navigate the bureaucracy and produce excellent outcomes in spite of it all.”

Thomas P. Christie
Former Director of Operational Test & Evaluation
Department of Defense

“We have the tools and expertise we need to make substantial reductions in the cost overruns, performance disappointments, and schedule slips that plague our weapon programs. What we do not have, or have not had consistently, is the determination to apply the available tools, especially when it means canceling programs that are generating careers in the Pentagon and jobs and votes outside it.”

Irv Blickstein
Senior Engineer
RAND Corporation

“Both Congress and each new Administration since the late 1970s have made acquisition reform a priority, and yet the expression ‘acquisition is broken’ continues to crop up in the trade literature and in speeches on Capitol Hill. It may well be that, as can be noted by the questions raised by the senators, we have come to believe that if only we had a little more, and more binding regulation, all would be right in the world.”


Frank Kendall
Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics)
Office of the Secretary of Defense

“We need the flexibility to tailor how we do business to the situation. No best practice is universally applicable. I have seen far too many program plans in the last 4 years where our managers have tried to force fit a program into what they thought was the approved “school solution” way of doing business. There is no one type of contract, or one set of decision points, or one set of risk mitigation techniques that applies to all programs.”

Daniel Gordon
Associate Dean for Government Procurement Law
George Washington University Law School

“I would urge caution in creating one set of rules for DOD and a different set for civilian agencies. The similarity of our statutory and regulatory legal framework for acquisitions across the federal government (other than for weapon systems) is an asset, and creating DOD-unique rules for procurement of goods or services that are not unique to DOD could cause costly inefficiencies.”

Retired Brig. Gen. Frank J. Anderson
Procurement and Acquisition Center of Excellence, LLC

“Understaffed programs increase the risk of unsuccessful program execution. Proper staffing requires the right numbers, right skill mix, and appropriate certification and experience levels.”


Dr. Jamie Morin
Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management and Comptroller
U.S. Air Force

“Getting acquisition right is not simply just the responsibility of our acquisition professionals; it is the responsibility of all those entrusted with the management of the Department’s resources — including financial managers serving as cost analysis advocates, risk balancers, and capability champions.”

Tina W. Jonas
UnitedHealthcare Military & Veterans

“The current system for resource allocation can be effective if there is early and solid alignment on strategy and programs among key stakeholders — both internal and external. When there is not good alignment, seams become evident in the budget allocation or execution process. Misalignment can lead to costly change, poor decision-making, and potentially expensive reversals (e.g., cancellation of a program or changes in programs) if addressed late in the budget cycle.”

David J. Berteau
Senior Vice President and Director
National Security Program on Industry and Resources
Center for Strategic and International Studies

“Recent research from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)10 shows that, since the peak of defense spending in 2008-2009, contract obligations for products, services, and R&D are down 25%, while non-contract outlays (basically, spending for military and civilian personnel and retirees) is up. If those trends continue for the next decade, fully two-thirds of defense spending will be on personnel by 2023, leaving far too little for contracts.”


Retired Vice Adm. David J. Venlet
U.S. Navy

“The fundamental of translating a stated requirement into a sound technical baseline is as important as the fundamental of an independent cost estimate. (My view is, it is very much more important.) For complex systems, one can only scientifically, and thus realistically, estimate the cost of a technical baseline. It is not possible to realistically estimate the cost of the user generated statement of the requirement. This translation requires a body of people with profound knowledge about lots of non-trivial ‘things.'”

Retired Adm. Gary Roughead
U.S. Navy

“Requirements, acquisition and budgeting are inextricably linked, yet the Service Chief, who is responsible for the requirement and budgeting, is not officially part of the changes that routinely take place in the acquisition process. Changes have effects on requirements and cost. More than informed, Service Chiefs must be part of that change process and have the authority to approve or reject changes for requirement or budget reasons.”

Dr. Paul G. Kaminski
Chairman & CEO
Technovation, Inc.

“We need a more robust process to better address the issues associated with integrating spectrum management, electronic warfare, cyber offense and defense, and C4ISR across our forces and across our various acquisition programs. We also need to significantly enhance our testing, exercise and M&S capabilities to develop the architectures and CONOPS needed to deal with degraded operations – including degradation in critical infrastructure which we depend.”

More from the special report, Missing Pieces of Procurement Reform:

Acquisition workers as critical thinkers

31 ideas for reforming DoD contracting

Acquisition quiz: True or false?

Why leadership, not Congress, is key to acquisition reform

Successful DoD acquisition programs start with funding for the workforce

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