Magazine article National Defense

How to Fix Defense Acquisition

Magazine article National Defense

How to Fix Defense Acquisition

Article excerpt

As a new captain in 1959, I began my career in Air Force acquisition. I managed the nuclear version of the Short Range Attack Missile (SRAM), then later the development and deployment of the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS). I retired as commander of the Air Force Systems Command in 1987. During this time, I watched the strange evolution of the defense acquisition system.

Perhaps the greatest blow to effective acquisition was the Goldwater-Nichols Act, which removed the chiefs from being responsible for acquisition and turned it over to the service civilian secretaries. Their staffs and the office of the secretary of defense suddenly blossomed into the defense acquisition process and began to issue numerous amounts of guidance and direction.

Keep in mind that a successful acquisition consists of two basic elements: process and product. The product is usually hardware--a ship, a tank or an aircraft. On the other hand, processes are simply guidance papers that are constantly produced within the Pentagon--whether they are needed or not--and they feed, and create the justification needed for an army of well meaning Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) bureaucrats who are always busy justifying their essentiality to the acquisition programs. Their numbers and processes will always far exceed, in numbers, the product that they supposedly support.

The processes and procedures flow down--usually as directives which become accountable at the program office--and the execution of the individual processes and procedures become cost bearing. To the extent that the contractor must do the work, it bills the program office.

When I was a program manager for SRAM and AWACS, I only dealt with the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering. However, I had to provide quarterly reports to the commander of Air Force Systems Command, and then to air staff three-stars, and then to the chief of staff and the secretary of the Air Force. Good or bad, you had to have your story straight or be ready to get chewed up. You had to talk to product performance schedule achievement, cost performance, and predict a "get well" time if you were behind. And you learned under the penetrating gaze of Air Force Secretary Robert Seamans and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. …

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