GAO and DoD witnesses tell Congress that defense acquisition is improving

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GAO and DoD witnesses tell Congress that defense acquisition is improving

Testifying before the a House Government Oversight and Reform Subcommittee this week, witnesses from The General Accountability Office (GAO) and the Office of the Secretary of Defense said the department is making good progress in its efforts to streamline the acquisition process.  However, they acknowledged that more needs to be done.  Secretary Gates has made acquisition reform one of his highest priorities and has pressed senior civilian and military officials to move quickly to achieve success.  Gates believes, as do many in Congress, that acquisition reform holds the key to not only making weapons buying more efficient, but unlocking the necessary savings needed to enable DoD to meet its modernization goals during a period of constrained defense resources.  The witnesses told the committee that there is every reason to believe that DoD is on the right track.  GAO, who has been very critical of DoD’s acquisition process, thinks that DoD is making progress.  Michael Sullivan, GAO’s Director for Acquisition and Sourcing Management, told the panel that DoD and the Congress have “taken meaningful steps towards addressing long-standing weapon acquisition issues.”  Sullivan pointed out that DoD has made significant revisions to acquisition policies and procedures and lauded its efforts to place more emphasis on gaining more knowledge about requirements, technology, and design early in the process.  Dr. Nancy Spruill, Director for Acquisition Resources and Analysis (Office of the Under Secretary for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics) said that DoD has focused its reform efforts on the “front end of the process.”  She underscored DoD’s emphasis on “starting programs right, making material development decisions at program initiation, conducting preliminary design reviews before Milestone B, budgeting to independent cost estimates, [and] requiring competitive prototyping.”  Spruill said DoD has begun many process and organizational improvements called for in the Weapons System Acquisition Reform Act (WSARA) of 2009, and “will seek additional ways to improve the effectiveness of [DoD’s} weapon systems processes.”  Even with the progress witnesses cited, and the benefits to reducing costs these reforms should generate, cost control remains a problem.  John Roth, Deputy Comptroller for Program/Budget, referred to Secretary Gates’ call for increased scrutiny of weapon programs to identify those who are over-budget or underperforming.  Roth mentioned the tough decisions that DoD has already made to cut or eliminate programs such as the Army’s Future Combat System and the F-22, and the recommendations for additional cancellations included in the FY2011 budget request (F-35 alternative engine, C-17, and Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System).  Roth also pointed to progress DoD is making in achieving auditable financial statements.  But, Spruill and Sullivan cautioned that there is more work ahead.  Sullivan said that DoD faces major challenges and that real long-term improvement can only be achieved if DoD makes policy changes permanent and maintains a sustained effort to change the acquisition environment.

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