How Can We Fix the Defense Acquisition Process?

June 18, 2008
By Henry Kenyon

The Honorable Jacques S. Gansler, former undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, opened the afternoon panel by identifying what he perceives as the problems facing the military's acquisition community. The top two identifiable problems, he said, were that IT systems cost too much and the acquisition process takes too long. A third issue is that the U.S. military is not what he considers "world class" in terms of logistics support. He complimented current military leadership for admitting that the services are buying last-century systems when it should be looking at systems 21st century missions.

Gansler also said that he believes the military will be facing a fiscal crisis during the next few years. "I would project a slight decline in the top number next year. How are we going to be able to solve that problem as the budgets shrink, as the supplementals disappear? That's the dilemma that I see happening," he said.

"Where do we start to fix this system?" Gansler asked. First, the military must think in terms of systems for requirements-joint and multinational. "We are not organized to do that. We are platform-oriented still, and it's still a service-oriented platform." The military must not only request but demand and implement spiral development, he added, saying that many in the commercial sector do not want to do business with the military because of all of its requirements.

Many panelists agreed that information technology itself may offer the solution to the acquisition problems the military faces. It can be used to introduce efficiencies into the process as well as document best practices from industry that can help the military address its key issues.

Listen to the panel session here (mp3 link):

How Can We Fix the Defense Acquisition Process?: Using IT as a Case Study

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Since Twitter limited my previous response to 140 characters, this might be a good place to continue the discussion. First, here's a recap of the Twitter stream:

Gansler: What I am very worried about is that Congress is going to 'fix' the acquisition process
if DOD doesn't step up and fix it first.
Sorenson: What is needed right now is an enterprise viewpoint.
Me: The Enterprise viewpoint is hard to get to with Title 10 in the way

I've been a systems engineer in a joint system program office (SPO), and now I work at a COCOM, so I feel like I've seen the acquisition process from both sides -- provider and customer. The way I see it, there's a disconnect between DoD policy, which we've been trying to transform, and the law. Title 10, which puts most of the authority in the hands of the Services, hinders most of our transformation efforts.

A trio of multi-service Joint Forces Staff College students wrote a great paper on Acqusition Reform. I hope they don't mind if I quote some portions from their work:

Regarding the Services: "...since the Services have the Title 10 responsibility to equip forces, and the resultant budgetary control over programs that responsibility entails, the Chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] does not have the ability to ensure that the services follow through with his recommendations through the Congressional budgeting process. Ultimately, the Services maintain ownership of their programs and the responsibility for prioritizing their funding against other requirements and justifying them before Congress. This not only entails sustainment and migration challenges but also operations and training issues."

Regarding the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC): "...while innovative and serving the DoD's goal to become a more "joint" force, the JROC does not have the authority or the capacity to go far enough to ensure that joint programs are fully implemented and budgeted. While chaired by the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the rest of the JROC membership is made up of the Vice-Chairmen of the Services - a seeming conflict of interest where the services may trade support for program approval in order to continue service parochialism and priorities... The JROC also has... no oversight of the budgeting process to ensure JROC-validated programs are adequately funded... Furthermore, no mechanism exists for the day to day monitoring of programs to ensure authorized and appropriated funds are spent in the way that the JROC intended.

You can find this white paper, and the recommendations of its authors, at

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