Young promises acquisition changes

New policy mandates use of competitive prototyping in large DOD programs

John Young, the nominee to be the Defense Department’s top acquisition official, sent senior military leaders a memo last month stating that all pending and future programs may proceed only if program officials make a significant change in their acquisition policy. Officials will be required to have two or more competing teams develop prototypes during early program stages.According to the document, an increased emphasis on competition and prototyping would reduce technical risks, validate system designs and evaluate manufacturing processes. “In total, this approach will also reduce time to fielding,” the memo states.The document was first reported by A copy is available on the Web site of Washington-based government watchdog group Project on Government Oversight.POGO defense investigator Nick Schwellenbach said the memo enacts a much-needed change in policy at DOD. “Let’s force the contractors to come to us with more developed ideas,” he said.Schwellenbach said a competitive prototyping policy could possibly have helped avoid cost overruns and reliability problems in the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program.He added that Young’s new policy could lead to competition among industry prototypes competing for the Air Force’s high-priority Combat Search and Rescue vehicle program if the service issues new requests for proposals for the program. In August, the Government Accountability Office called for a re-evaluation of proposals for the program after it sustained protests from Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky against the Air Force’s choice of Boeing to supply the helicopter.Besides the anticipated benefits of lower cost and more timely product delivery, the new competitive prototyping policy could lead to a number of secondary benefits, Young wrote.For example, the practice would exercise and develop the interplay between government and industry management teams, he wrote. In addition, an increased emphasis on prototyping would help develop and enhance systems engineering skills, retain critical engineering skills throughout the government and the industrial base, and attract young talent to the field of science and engineering, according to the document.DOD officials have said the United States’ graduation rate of technical and engineering students is rapidly falling behind that of possible U.S. competitors, such as China.The memo from Young states what many DOD industry officials have said. “Many troubled programs share common traits — the programs were initiated with inadequate technology maturity and an elementary understanding of the critical program development path. Specifically, program decisions were based largely on paper proposals that provided inadequate knowledge of technical risk and a weak foundation for estimating development and procurement cost. The department must rectify these situations.”During his confirmation hearing last week before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Young said he would make a number of corrections in DOD’s weapons buying processes if the Senate confirms him.Young said he would work to instill a sense of realism in the process of establishing requirements for new systems. Many of DOD’s weapons systems have experienced cost overruns and schedule slips because officials make overly optimistic estimates about the cost and timing necessary to complete projects, he said.Young’s comments came in response to questions by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the committee’s chairman, who asked him why so many DOD programs are over budget.Young has been the acting undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics since his predecessor, Kenneth Krieg, left DOD in July. Young will also continue as director of defense research and engineering until the Senate makes a confirmation decision. He had been the Navy’s top acquisition official and a professional staff member on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s DefenseSubcommittee.At the hearing, lawmakers called for his speedy confirmation. But at press time, the panel had not voted, according to a spokeswoman for Levin. The committee likely will do so after this week’s recess, she said.

Larger oversight role?

At his Oct. 4 confirmation hearing to become the undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, John Young said he supports having a full advisory role on the Defense Department’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council. That panel, composed of senior military officials, plays a major role in setting requirements for DOD programs.

“Full…membership may be appropriate,” he wrote in response to advance questions provided to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
At the hearing, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said she favored participation of DOD’s top civilian acquisition official on the panel to oversee what she said is “a lot of back scratching,” a reference to interservice program trade-offs between the military branches.

— Sebastian Sprenger

NEXT STORY: Renaming State's blog