"I checked my seat cushions...you?"

The Current Acquisition Regime is Sinking America’s Navy

"I checked my seat cushions...you?"
                                        “I checked my seat cushions…you?”

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  • Repeal the outdated Federal Acquisition Regulation and Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement.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.

5 thoughts on “The Current Acquisition Regime is Sinking America’s Navy”

  1. Good article, albeit the same list mostly from decades ago……we change little once practices become part of the culture. SB set asides I support because the large contractors are not the best innovators by far and they would gobble up the funds with little return…..we’ve all be down that road many times.

  2. Abuse of Small business Set Asides? It’s big prime contractors are the ones dropping the ball, running big programs deep into the red and then point to bureaucrats and congressmen I’d say you might want to revisit that statement. More to the point, maybe if the small businesses actually got the work they were brought on for when they signed a teaming agreement once the contract was won, perhaps the contract would perform better. Too many times, the prime contractors drag small business through the man power intensive business process with the promise of a teaming agreement only to find out later on the Prime decided to take that work in house. Small Business are too intimidated to bit the hand that could potentially feed them and the Contracting Officers do little to follow up on compliance.

  3. I think that the ‘abuse’ the author mentioned was the tactics I have seen that work against the intent of the process. those set asides are supposed to encourage growth and innovation, but that gets thrown out the window in 2 cases. 1) a big corp uses a small biz as a ‘beard’ to get a contract that is supposed to only go to SBs, and 2) a politically connected small biz (say one owned by or consisting solely of a retired SES or FOGO) uses the SB set asides to dodge sole source requirements and any real competition. abuses like that have given the program a very bad name, and rightfully so – they need a crackdown, but since the political connections are the key in either case, it is hard to see how it can improve.

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