The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), led by Republican John McCain and Democrat Carl Levin, commissioned a lengthy report from various political players about the structural problems with how we procure new weapons platforms. National Defense reports on the findings:
The Senate permanent subcommittee on investigations last week published a 211-page collection of essays written by Washington’s defense procurement gurus. The panel describes the report as a “comprehensive record on shortcomings in the acquisition process,” although no specific solutions are offered to fix these problems.That military weapon acquisitions continue to be plagued by cost overruns and schedule delays is particularly frustrating to many lawmakers who expected major problems would end after Congress passed to great fanfare the 2009 Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act.The title of the subcommittee’s report, “Defense Acquisition Reform: Where Do We Go From Here?” encapsulates such frustration. […]The subcommittee summarized the views of the experts as follows:• Nearly half stress that cultural change is required while over two-thirds believe improving incentives for the acquisition workforce is necessary for reform.• Two-thirds of the contributors agree that training and recruiting of the acquisition workforce must be improved.• Nearly half believe that DOD needs to ensure it has realistic requirements at the start of a major acquisition program that includes budget-informed decisions.• More than half of the submissions noted the need for strong accountability and leadership throughout the life-cycle of a weapon system. Several experts also called for the military service chiefs to have greater authority in the acquisition process.
The SASC report comes on the heels of similar calls from the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), led by Vice Chairman Mac Thornberry, and also also from the Pentagon’s Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Frank Kendall, who seems to have a strong mandate from Secretary of Defense Hagel.U.S. defense spending is dysfunctional for several reasons that all drive inefficiency. Price-lowering competition between contractors is artificial if even existent. Deputies in charge of developing particular platforms have no career incentive to call off a project if it looks like it will turn out to be useless or over-budget. We waste gobs of money trying to fit new technology into platforms that were built for the WWII era. And much of our spending is reduplicative; new programs are added to existing ones when they ought to replace those they render redundant or obsolete. Given all this waste, it is becoming clear that America’s exorbitant defense spending (which comprises 40 percent of the global total) will not ensure America’s strategic military advantage. That’s why the Senate committee report matters, even though it doesn’t contain concrete suggestions for passable legislation. Politicians are jostling to be at the front of the pack to lead an upcoming push to reform defense spending, of which procurement is no small part. (For a not-so-micro microcosm of everything wrong with our current procurement culture, read up on the F-35).Maybe, just maybe, the combined forces of a resolute SASC, HASC, and Pentagon, emboldened by increasing federal budget constraints, can push the next Congress to take the first steps toward reforming America’s broken and fiscally corrosive defense spending culture.