BY CHARLES HOSKINSON
The Pentagon needs a change in the culture of how it buys weapons to help bring accountability to the process and make better use of taxpayers’ dollars, according to a survey of experts done for a congressional committee.
The 214-page report released by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations compiles the opinions of 31 experts asked to review the Pentagon’s acquisition process, including corporate executives, current and former Defense Department officials, retired top military leaders and budget analysts. Committee leaders made no recommendations in the report.
The report noted that the culture of Pentagon weapon-buying was among the things most important yet most difficult to change. One reason, experts said, was because there’s no incentive in the current process to slow or stop the development of a weapons program when problems emerge. Instead, people are rewarded for moving it forward.
“The defense acquisition leadership could incentivize more forthright, open and honest reporting by visibly rewarding someone who has the courage to do it. This will send the right message to the workforce and encourage others to do the same,” wrote Christine Fox, former Pentagon director of cost assessment and program evaluation.
Though the Pentagon and Congress have worked for years to fix the acquisition process, problems continue to occur in even the largest weapons programs, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship, both of which have been plagued by delays, cost overruns and performance issues.
“Our current defense acquisition system has been plagued with inadequate planning, redundant processes and mismanagement that have resulted in the wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars and delayed the delivery of needed capability to our service men and women. For these reasons, the defense acquisition process must continue to be reformed,” said Sen. John McCain of Arizona, ranking Republican on the subcommittee.
McCain and subcommittee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., noted in the report that continued cuts to defense spending from budget sequestration “will undermine any savings that could be achieved through even the most successful acquisition reform,” a view shared by many experts.
“Avoiding repetition of the 2013 sequester is the most effective way to avoid unintentional damage to the kinds of long-term investments of taxpayer dollars that the department makes in pursuit of military advantage,” wrote Air Force Comptroller Jamie Morin.
Almost as soon as it was enacted, defense hawks in Congress tried to remove the caps on defense spending built into the Budget Control Act of 2011, which called for a $487 billion reduction in planned spending over 10 years, and the $50 billion a year in sequestration cuts that are set to run through 2023. But political support to provide more than just temporary relief from those limits has not emerged.