Carter: Pentagon’s Acquisition System Still Not ‘Responsive’

Carter: Pentagon’s Acquisition System Still Not ‘Responsive’

U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter is on his way out the door in two weeks. In 2009, he took over as the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics and led that office until 2011 when was nominated as the Pentagon’s No. 2.

He’s been in charge of overseeing major changes to the Defense Department’s acquisition process as former Defense Secretary Robert Gates as well as his successors leaned on Carter to pare down the budgets and help cut bloated weapons programs.

Just days before Carter is scheduled to leave his post at the Pentagon, Carter made a not all too surprising, but jarring comment in an interview with the Wall Street Journal:


“We have to have a military that is agile in a modern world where technology is changing so fast,” Carter told the Wall Street Journal. “The Pentagon’s way of doing business simply isn’t responsive.”

The Wall Street Journal’s piece discussed the challenges the Pentagon faces in dealing with the budget cuts and the uncertainty surrounding the Defense Department’s future budgets. Carter explained the different programs the Pentagon is trying to expand to find savings through more efficient processes and cutting excess waste.

These are programs the Pentagon has discussed since at least 2011, but it’s a talking point that continues to strike at the question of why the Defense Department waited to start working on these programs until the threat of cuts became real. A common quote used in speeches on the defense conference circuit is: “Gentleman, we ran out of money, now we have to think.”

Carter repeated the theme in his interview with Julian Barnes of the Wall Street Journal saying: “There is nothing good about budget reductions and turmoil. But it does make you rethink everything you are doing.”

However, with all the talk about thinning the number of personnel inside headquarters, or expanding conditions-based maintenance, the Pentagon continues to slog through it’s acquisition processes that have left defense companies questioning why the Pentagon insists on extending acquisition programs for years on end.

Yet it seems from Carter’s comments the Pentagon stills hasn’t gained traction in updating the process. It will continue to be a challenge for his successor and the Pentagon at large as it tries to conserve the dollars it does receive in the budget.

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Sounds like a DepSecDef and USD(AT&L) leadership/management problem.

“Gentleman, we ran out of money, now we have to think.”

I’ve been saying this years ago. I’m glad the defense budget is being slashed because now it is forcing the Pentagon to start spending smarter.

Except there is a whole lot of talk and far less anything being done. That’s the way the bureaucracy is. Taking a cleaver to the budget in a haphazard manner as we all now won’t fix underlying issues.

Legislate a 30% reduction in the DOD bureaucracy! :) Why should they be immune to our own political uncertainties.

We continue to pay defense contractors more to screw up, more to drag out development, more to blow through schedule predictions, and then we wring our hands and stare at the sky wondering what the problem with defense spending might be. We didn’t always buy weapons this way and when we didn’t, we got better results. Gee, what should we do to fix the military-industrial complex?

All Pentagon and political crap.

There is nothing wrong with the acquisition System. If all the Contractors and Program offices followed what is in
writing, most of our problems with late systems and non functioning hardware would be solved.

Hell yeah! It doesn’t matter that we provide a profit incentive for defense contractors to screw us. After all, that capitalism crap doesn’t work anyway.

If the Defense department would stop Scope Creep then the weapon systems would not cost as much. Bet scope creep adds 40% extra to a weapon system. If they would scope out all the creep then the contractors could actually price out a program and maybe reduce overruns?

The acquisition system is a huge tail wagging a tiny dog, the ridiculous unnecessary requirements add large amounts of cost. It should not matter to a contract whether a company has a policy with training on texting while driving. Add to that government program and contract managers that have no earthly idea what they are buying so they concentrate on overwhelming useless paperwork requirements. Both sides have issues but the major problem rests with the government.

Does pass the laugh test.

The only scope creeping occurring is when the specifications are relaxed to allow failed projects to continue.

What is needed is fixed priced contracts with criminal penalties for fraud. The contractors claim that nobody would participate unless fraud is allowed — but that is a joke they will participate because there is nowhere else for them to go.

Incentivising and rewarding corruption — is how the the system works.

This isn’t a matter of organizational reform, its organized corrupt and criminal activity that should be hunted down by the FBI

I have never been on a program where this kind of “refinements creep” occurred. Every program I’ve been on the requirements were loosened or reduced while costs went through the roof. That includes programs like NASA’s space station and F-22. The defense contractors love to whine about “requirements creep” but have never documented a single case. I have been asked to come up with examples of “requirements creep” so company management could put an example on a PowerPoint chart to use to scold the customer. Neither I, nor anyone on the program could come up with a good example. Gee, I wonder why?

The problem is, the activity is not illegal. It is immoral, but legal due to the huge lobbying efforts of the defense contractors.

Yeah right. Show me a single example of where these supposed “unnecessary requirements” have added “large amounts of cost”. There are none. The whole thing is a web of bs spun by the defense contractors.

As a 25 year plus civil service employee in the DoD I can say that there are several problems here.

1– Program offices don’t usually know what they want and can’t document requirements effectively. The people who are running acquisition programs aren’t users and don’t have a clue what the operational need is. More involement from users and maintainers, and repeatable effective processes for requirements development in program offices is needed.

2– Contracting law and implementation of it needs to be thrown in the trash and defined from scratch. The Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) are a complete joke. There are so many hoops to jump through, and so many interpretations of them that it is impossible to predict how long it will take and what the pathway is. The typical acquisition has so many checks, balances, approvals, reviews, documents, studies, meetings, etc. that are completely unnecessary in most cases. Most of these steps are in the process because of some abuse that happened once, somewhere. But we are trying so hard to prevent an abuse somewhere, that there is no consideration of the risk or cost of some potential abuse. In my opinion, we are spending 10X the cost of a potential abuse to prevent it.

3– Contracting offices have no accountability to their customers (program offices, users, maintainers). In my experience, they are graded on lowest initial cost (not long term cost), and how much competition they can create (even when it is not worth the cost or effort). They don’t really care about their cycle time, the critical schedule and cost needs of their customers–in fact they don’t even think of the organizations that they are providing their service to as their customers. 6–9 months for a simple, routine, low dollar purchase is completely unacceptable.

This is exactly correct. We are so worried about the $600 hammer that we put $700 of beurocracy in place to ensure we don’t get one. Then we get one anyway, but at least have lot’s of documentation proving why it costs $600. Defense contractors are not complaining, they get to charge labor costs for every government required report and mandated meeting.

Besides, who gives a rat’s ass what the program office “wants”? There are 2 kinds of weapons, the possible and the impossible. The program office should buy the best weapon possible given the available funds. Instead they get a pack of lies from the contractors telling them everything they want to hear and when it is all over, they get the best weapon the group of clowns the contractor put on the contract can conceive. If they would hold an open competition and have the contractors show up with their best prototypes, hand them over to the active duty guys to test and evaluate, then buy the best weapon for the best price we would have finally worked our way back to the way this country used to do business with defense contractors.

DOD procurement offices, like almost ALL DOD admin support offices, are nearly 100% inbred, including legions of parasitic double dipping retired pencil-pushing mil lifers who were HANDED sweetheart so-called ‘conversions’ into high-paying DOD admin support civilian jobs right after their mil retirement ceremonies! ANd more times that not they were ‘converted’ into the very same DOD offices, desks and chairs that their more than ample derriers occupied while on ‘active duty.’

This GARBAGE is all driven by self-financial interest and greed! Rampant levels of inbreeding creates and perpetuates an organization culture steeped in mediocrity and its just as ugly twin sister– ENTITLEMENT! These 4th rate DOD offices and orgs reap what they sow!

I believe the competition forthe JSF ( now f-35 ) was set this way. Now theres all kinds of problems with the program. I was in favor of completeing out the F-22 so the US would have adequate replacements for aging f-15’s and then ( once the final development of f-35 was completed ) go on to build out the fleet of f-35’s. Had that policy been implemented, we’d have at least a halfway decent intercept/ fighting platform with enough planes for defense and offensive cobat operations while having a new f-35 fleet without all the birthing pangs we are witnessing now. It seems the Defense procurement process is beseiged on all fronts by a “system” that insures mediocracy at best and overexploitation by contractors at its worst. I hope that all of our armed service members do not suffer from these inadequacies and I fear our only hope is that our enemies suffer from worse procurement issues.

Carter should be given credit for telling the truth. What disturbs me is that we only appoint people who can’t seem to make a dent in the system. Apparently they’re not heeding all the great advice available here and I’m being semi-facetious. Lots of comments here provide useful insights but too many are just emotional running off at the mouth about what happened when they were in the game. Obviously none were big and bad enough to make a difference. That applies to me as well.

We keep harping on Ike’s military-industrial complex attributions but turning our heads on those incompetents and self-servers on the Hill who are more than heavily involved, complicit (fill it your word). Do we think they want an efficient acquisition process? There’s enough info out there on how to do it correctly but just try to implement the changes it would require.

Defense procurement is corrupt, from one of the criminals himself no less.

Its a simple case of the blind leading the blind. And as an after thought, where has the great Congress been through all of this? We know hey are still accepting “campaign contributions ” from all those involved, so they must know something, at least you would think they did?

Since Carter has been on board, we have read tons of policies and guidance. But no action. All sizzle no steak. What he preached has been said 000’s of times over and then some. He is no different than all the others that held the same office position. Don’t blame the CTR’s for making a buck, blame the Gov’t oversight for not doing their job. For Weapon Systems, the buck stops with AT&L, and yet they were/are as effective as a wet paper bag. Not one of them will stop a program or see to it that the POAM’s are executed and resolved before adding their signature. Been there, done that!

Like I’ve said before, Carter was part of the problem and not part of the solution.

The $400 hammer cost $10. The overhead AT&L allowed accounted for the other $390. Once a basic contract is negotiated for the year, contractors shouldn’t be permitted to add overhead to any additional items. How many times should we pay them for the same fixed administrative staff? Once.

But the commenters are right. We need to start REPEALING all those non-sensical FAR and DFAR provisions and go back to basics.

The largest waste of funding in the entire DOD is JSF. Worthless from the Ground-up. TACTOM, TLAM and a few, UAV’s, MALD-J, B-52’s, F-15 & F/A-18’s and a few A-10C’s can take out any target anywhere anytime. We do not need F-22 or JSF. JSF is a 168,000,000.00 Million Dollar Software, Hardware and Logistics Nighmare. We can do better!!!!

Ashton Carter, General Bogden and the entire JSF/JPO should be fired. NO platform should begin in 1995 and NOT IOC or be fully operational in 2021. 26 Years and now obsolescence issue are creeping up the slippery slope. Mr. Carter and General Bogden need to cancel this program ASAP.

Acquisition is partially screwed up because of the one size fits all mentality. The same acquisition rules, policy, etc. should not be applied to buying COTS IT system that was established to buy tanks and aircraft. The slow methodical way we go through milestones, makes IT obscolete before it’s even fielded. In many cases, it’s practically worthless and we immediatley go into a modernizaton cycle. Loosen up the rules for COTS acquisition and let’s see what the PMs can do!

Another reason it’s screwed up is the core of support contractors at various HQs who come up with great ideas/policies to keep themselves employed forever and bring in more contractors. Cut the bureaucracy and red tape along with the vast majority of these support contractors and you’d definitely speed up the system and in many cases, field a better product and cut costs.

Lastly get the military out of the acquisition business. In large programs, you often times have make strategic choices as to what’s best for the program. The military officers however tends to make tactical choices that may look good today for this year’s performance report, but has negative long range repurcussions. The idea that we need military in acquisition because they understand the field is laughable. I’ve known many 0-6s in the Air Force who have never set foot on a flightline let alone been in an operational unit.

The other monumental issues and concerns revolves around the Officers and DoD Civilians. The Officers, such as General Bogden and others come into a Program such as JSF and use verbiage such as “LMCO” is worthless. The General is Correct they are Worthless. Once the Military and/or DoD Civilian enters the fight and actual decision making they begin to manipulate the very system they despise by asking LMCO/JSF to “slow down the production-line” so the software and hardware end can catch-up. Thus compromising the integrity of the Program and making there leadership seem on “Target” and exponentially better than before. In reality the General and the DoD Civilian are at the end or nearing their two year tour at the JPO and need good reviews by Congress to be promoted or to solidify their slot at LMCO if coming up on Retirement. LMCO can wait out any Officer or Civilian to make War with the DoD and funding issues. Instead of integrity in the system, it becomes “How can be Promoted” or provide a Civilian position with LMCO prior to retirement. 95% of the General Officers and/or O-6’s at LMCO came from the DoD and know exactly how to manipulate the system to provide additional “Stock” value to LMCO rather than concentrating on the Combat and Warfighting Capability. These are facts… 25 Years and Trillions of Dollars later we are now stuck with a Platform that is totally owned, operated and logistically managed by a company in Texas (LMCO)… not the Commanders and Warfighters in the Field. This is obscene!!! Our Nation and our Warfighers deserve better from our “Leadership”.… Ladies and Gentleman the System is BROKE.….

Another famous story is the toilet seat and coffee makers that are put on aircraft. The requirements for them are so many and such that if an aircraft crashes the only thing that would be left usable is the coffee maker and toilet seats

The toilet seat and coffee maker stories are ancient history. We’ve long gone away from milspec to COTS solutions. Why even discuss it?

You obviously do not work for the DoD or you wouldn’t be saying stupid stuff like that especially when our future is all about cyber globalization. If our military falters just a little in assuring a state of the art system in such a fast paced world we run the risk of losing our edge. An edge that is not just limited to our military prowess, but our economic one as well.

All I hear from the right is cutting fraud and waste and it makes me laugh. It’s what ALL businesses and governments strive for since the beginning of time. The big question is how can we find it and is it truly fraud and waste? Remember that old adage one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure? Apply that to how we function as a country. If all we do is cut what we THINK is waste only to learn latter that it forced so many of us out of work what have we achieved?

I’ve worked programs where within one month of contract award the Gvt requested 1–4 ECPs to change the hardware/softawre. Why? because in the 3+ years it took the USAF to make a decision and get it on contract, the Navy made the decision, got it on contract, made hardware/software changes it wanted, bought the hardware, and began fielding it for test. All done on time and on budget.

Dead right on. The commercial world contracts function quite well with out 20 pages of FARs and DFARs. Just because costs are not collected for compliance to the C.S., doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Let’s see if you can wrap your tiny mind around this, you’re spending my children’s money and it’s time to stop! Not later, now.

Yeah, sounds like literally thousands of dollars of waste.

Our enemies don’t have the same problems. They are communists so there are no defense contractors to suck their weapons programs dry. They rely on their armed forces to develop their own weapons. It’s a system we used that worked quite well for us right here in the good old US of A. When the defense contractors first got involved, there was plenty of good capitalist incentives in place and these private firms helped our defense technology advance very quickly. The problem is we didn’t listen to Ike when he warned us about the military industrial complex and we let the defense contractors take over. Now we’re f’ed.

Get the military OUT of the acquisition business??? Look, dude, I’m not sending my wife out to buy my tools, and the military does not need civilians out buying their weapons. The fact of the matter is they should stop buying weapons in many cases and start designing their own weapons in many cases, and the only way they should ever buy a weapon is buy having private companies develop those weapons with their own money and bring them in to have a run off with other weapons developed by other companies, or if the weapon is innovative enough then the government should just buy it outright. They should never and I repeat NEVER fund development at a for-profit company with American tax dollars!

Because people can wrap their heads around $800 or $1500. They have no idea how much a billion dollars is. They can’t even think in those terms. Thus they get their panties all in a bunch about a $50 hammer, but don’t even think about the fact that there aren’t enough hammers in this world to explain the trillions of dollars that are wasted on programs like JSF. Our failing schools are one more big bonus for the defense contractors.

So you recommend throwing money at the problem day after day, week after week. How’s that been working out? It makes the problems bigger, those who cause the problems richer, and the stakes bigger, but no solution is in sight. It’s time to get more for less, not less for more.

The big programs don’t work that way. In the big programs the scope of the program continually decreases as the cost increases. That’s where the real waste is. Some government stupidity is always going to be with us. The megawaste that’s going on in programs like JSF, that’s a whole different animal, one that needs to become extinct.

DOD procurement offices, like almost ALL DOD admin support offices, are nearly 100% inbred, including legions of parasitic double dipping retired pencil-pushing mil lifers who were HANDED sweetheart so-called ‘conversions’ into high-paying DOD admin support civilian jobs right after their mil retirement ceremonies! ANd more times that not they were ‘converted’ into the very same DOD offices, desks and chairs that their more than ample derriers occupied while on ‘active duty.’

This GARBAGE is all driven by self-financial interest and greed! Rampant levels of inbreeding creates and perpetuates an organization culture steeped in mediocrity and its just as ugly twin sister– ENTITLEMENT! These 4th rate DOD offices and orgs reap what they sow!

I should have stated military officers to make it clearer. Government civilians are entirely capable of doing the job without military officers involved in the actual acquisition tasks for the reasons I stated earlier.

The problem with that approach you outlined is you’d never get any company to develop big ticket items on their own dime. We saw an end to that when Northrop privately developed the F-20 Tiger Shark and the Air Force refused to look at it in favor of more expensive F-16s. When the USAF didn’t want it, no foreign companies would buy it and Northrop lost a bundle.

Why would any major company put themselves out there like that?

Cutting job creating spending just grows the deficit so you still end up spending your children’s money, only without much progress in economic growth, technology or otherwise. Read up on Keynesian Economics and hopefully you righties will wake the heck up from you Adam Smith invisible hand trickledown supply side economic fantasy. We are now living in a global economy, one where the wealthy and big business (many who are foreigners) are selling this country out every day to the cheap labor markets while they playfully whine about being overburdened with taxes that are at best a sliver of their everyday operating costs.

I guarantee if we follow the Repubs we will end up in a depression where all the crazies will crawl out from every rock spewing there hate and nonsense to begin the next big war to end all wars rebooting the world’s economy flat with an infrastructure wipe out, as it’s been since the dawns of mankind.

Unless we tax the wealthy to share this wealth with job focused campaigns we are done. By doing this sharing not only would our economy grow so will the bank accounts of the wealthy, a pure win-win solution to say the least.

Worked on streamlining the process at HQMC back in 94–96 during the Marine Corps Continuous Process Improvement work we were doing…it was a cluster then and always will be. Did a flow chart on the procurement of the MV-22…then BGen Magnus had initiated the program when he was a Major on the CH-46 APW desk…that was 20yrs in the making at that stage and we had just received approval to start LROP. Programs on cutting edge technology don’t just fall from the tree and if the technology is demonstrated by visionary industry R&D you are ahead in the race otherwise is has to come off a drawing board and has to get and maintain Service, DoD, Administration and Congressional approval throughout the life of the budgeting process.…that’s a lot of agendas to manage. Any one of those actor’s regularly delay if not kill the progress.

In wartime procurement everyone reverts to can-do and programs can get accelerated but don’t expect that to continue during drawdown and serious budget constraints.

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