Acquisition chief says Pentagon needs to buy faster

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Acquisition chief says Pentagon needs to buy faster

Post by John Chisum on Sun Jul 17, 2011 3:58 pm

Acquisition chief says Pentagon needs to buy faster

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Evy Mages/For Capital Business - Undersecretary Ashton Carter says the Pentagon should broadly adopt a recent ad hoc program of recent procurement for Iraq and Afghanistan.

By Marjorie Censer, Sunday, July 17, 2:00 PM

The Pentagon needs to institutionalize an ad hoc rapid acquisition program it is using to deliver needed weapons and equipment to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Defense Department’s top acquisition official said last week.

Ashton Carter, speaking at a Brookings Institution event Friday, said the Pentagon has relied on an improvised “fast lane” program to quickly send more intelligence and surveillance equipment, including radars, sensors and military dogs, to Afghanistan. The effort has allowed a surge of equipment approved by former defense secretary Robert M. Gates earlier this year to be delivered now.

The effort has been so successful that Carter argued the approach should be formally adopted. He called the current procurement system inadequate and criticized the Pentagon’s “general inability to be agile.”

“The [acquisition] system we have is designed to be deliberate and not to be quick,” he said. “It’s a problem all by itself even in our normal programs; it’s completely unacceptable when you’re in the middle of a war.”

The standard system, which requires the Pentagon to go through an elaborate requirements-setting process long before it can buy equipment, cannot keep pace with the tempo of technological change, he added.

Key to institutionalizing a more rapid process will be establishing a “funding fast lane,” Carter said.

At Friday’s event, he said “everything is on the table” as the Pentagon looks to make significant cuts as part of a broader federal cost-cutting strategy.

But Carter said the Defense Department should not just consider what he dubbed the “top of the iceberg,” or noticeable items like weapons programs.

For instance, about 70 percent of the total cost of a weapon is maintaining it, while the other 30 percent goes to developing and buying it. In another example, Carter said that for every 45 cents spent on goods, the Pentagon spends 55 cents on services.

“Our tradecraft in the acquisition of services is even poorer than our tradecraft in the acquisition of goods,” he said.

The Office of Management and Budget too is targeting services. Officials said earlier this month that federal agencies must cut spending on management support services — generally considered consulting — 15 percent by the end of the fiscal 2012.

Carter also pointed to the high costs of personnel, bases and logistics.

Inevitably, the Pentagon’s research and development and procurement budgets will be targeted as the government pursues savings, but he said it would be “unnecessarily imprudent” to make those categories the primary source of cuts.

All spending areas need “to be scrutinized,” Carter said. “They all need to go up on the table so everybody can see all the choices we have.”

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John Chisum

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