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

Pentagon's No. 2 says the Defense Department's process for buying weapons is still not getting the job done.

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.