That’s a form letter the
Yes, IT moves fast and the current procurement system moves too slow, acknowledged
“There’s high risk that it just furthers the problem rather than solving it,” Hunter told me when I pressed him for a blunter answer after his public remarks. “Having a separate system for this and a separate system for that — leave aside whether it’s IT or some other product or commodity — ultimately it’s just a set of inflexible systems rather than a single inflexible system,” he said with a grim laugh. “What we really need is the flexibility rather than the separate system.”
Besides, Hunter said, even if the separate-and-unequal system for IT purchases turns out to be more efficient than the regular process, how do you figure out what qualifies? More and more military equipment has computers in it, from energy-efficient electrical generators to handheld radios to fighter jets.
“Is the Joint Strike Fighter an IT program?” Hunter asked. With over 24 million lines of code, getting the F-35's software to work has been one of the biggest of the big program’s many big problems (my characterization, not Hunter’s), so if any program could have benefited from a special track for information technology purchases, it’s probably JSF. “Even if we wanted to make that case, and it’s makeable, right,” Hunter went on, “is the Hill going to say, ‘oh, well, you don’t need to go through the MDAP [Major Defense Acquisition Program] process, because JSF’s an IT program, you can go through the streamlined process?’ Probably not going to fly.”
Instead, Hunter said, a defense program with a major IT component — and that’s most of them — would probably end up having to meet the requirements for both the normal system and the special one, doubling the bureaucratic cost and delay. In fact, the
“We actually have four separate systems within just the
“I’d rather have one, really good, flexible system that is as streamlined as we can make it than a variety of smaller systems,” Hunter told me. The
What kind of flexibility do they need? Hunter was cagey but he dropped some hints. “We’ve put some proposals forward to the Hill to give us some increased financial flexibility, through maybe rapid acquisition authority funds,” he said, continuing a system that provided quick response to battlefield demands during the post-9/11 wars. The administration would also like to be able to “reprogram” larger sums from one budget line to another — a process which, Hunter emphasized, requires congressional approval. “Rather than being able to have reprogramming of whatever it is, three percent of the defense budget, we’d like to see it closer to high single digits,” he told me with a nervous laugh.
But, I asked, aren’t rapid acquisition and reprogramming both relatively modest slices of the massive
Proposals for more fundamental changes are in the works, Hunter made clear. One obvious one he mentioned was shortening the congressionally imposed checklist of requirements that major programs have to meet at their official milestones. Some other reforms the
Kendall and co. are working hard to get real-world data on the performance of past acquisition reform measures, Hunter said, and that may lead to counterintuitive proposals. “Stay tuned for the next annual report on the performance of the defense acquisition system, coming very soon,” he told the Brookings audience. “What we may find … is that we don’t all like what the data has to tell us, because some of our favorite pet policies may not come out looking favorable.”
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