By now it is no secret that the U.S. Navy is the service in the best shape for 2014. However, a decade of combat operations and two decades of underinvestment have left the Navy too small and inadequately equipped to meet all of the growing demands placed upon America’s men and women in uniform. The military’s equipment is old, unreliable, increasingly obsolete, and insufficient in number.
Last year I coauthored a paper on Representative Mac Thornberry’s defense acquisition reform initiative. The reforms would help to free up resources for badly needed weapons modernization and put the Department of Defense on a sustainable fiscal path. The reforms would also help keep new ships under construction and existing ships maintained.
To be fair, fixing problems with defense acquisition would not remedy all that ails the Navy and the broader defense program. Strengthening the program will require an array of different initiatives, of which the most important and most immediate is breaking the impasse over the federal budget in a way that preserves adequate overall defense funding and replaces the current structure of sequestration. Nevertheless, defense acquisition reform is a necessary initiative within this array.
To ensure that effective reform is implemented, Congress should:
- Ensure accountability for major acquisition. Congress should reverse its inclination to centralize acquisition authority and micromanage the acquisitions process. Instead, it should authorize the services to regain responsibility for acquisition programs, allowing flexibility and decentralization in management.
- Implement performance-based logistics. Despite the success of previous performance-based logistics, Congress continues to exercise bias against private contractors. Instead, Congress should incentivize a performance-based approach, managed by public-private partnerships.
- Repeal the outdated Federal Acquisition Regulation and Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement. Certain provisions, including the reduction in non-value-added overhead currently imposed on the industry, should be eliminated.
- Reduce DOD overhead. Congress should ensure that the Defense Business Board staffing recommendations are implemented and that DOD fulfills its commitment to a 20 percent reduction in civilian and military headquarters funding.
- Reform the auditing process. Congress should require DOD to follow best practices in managing its finances. Money saved from the proper and timely payment of invoices and the consequent reduction of interest penalties should be put back into acquisition; the funds saved as a result of improved audits should also be returned to acquisition accounts.
- Reform and reduce security clearance costs across the DOD enterprise. Congress should prioritize reforms that reduce cost, push for major improvements in the timeliness of investigations and adjudications, reduce unnecessary redundancy and waste, and streamline policies and procedures.
- Disciplining the Acquisition of High Technology. Define Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) up front and use that to bound requirements. Require better funding balance of research and development (R&D) and procurement; having on ramps for new technologies (spiral development) but requiring they be funded through R&D, conversely baring using R&D for procurement.
- Defense Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC). Adopt a new approach for assessing the military’s infrastructure requirements while taking advantage of lessons learned from the previous BRAC. This new approach must be global, transparent, and conducted in close discussion with affected communities.
- Acquisition Workforce Reform. Focus on the longevity and Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSAs) of senior leaders.
- Contracting Reform. Eliminate measures that reduce efficiency and add cost, particularly stopping abuse of small business set asides.
The Navy continues to juggle the pivot to the Asia–Pacific and unforeseen requirements in the Persian Gulf. Meanwhile, the sea service is also struggling to determine the future of its surface fleet. Reforming the defense acquisition process is critical for making the most of each dollar spent on our national security.
Emil Maine is a National Security Research Assistant at the Heritage Foundation, where he conducts independent research on U.S. defense posture. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own.