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Could Defense Contracting Reforms Have Prevented Procurement Messes?

New testimony from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) argues that the answer may be yes, at least to the extent that reforms gave Congress more tools to conduct oversight. For example, had Congress's requirement for the Navy to construct 30-year shipbuilding plans been in place in the 90s, the Navy might have recognized that attack submarine procurement was too slow to be sustainable:

[D]uring the 1990s, well before the Congress instituted the requirement for a 30-year shipbuilding plan, attack submarines were bought at an average rate of about half a submarine a year. At the time, that historically low rate did not affect the ability of the Navy to meet its inventory goal because the Navy had more than enough submarines to meet that goal for years to come. However, once the Navy begins to retire three or four submarines per year in the latter part of the 2010s, it will not be able to meet its inventory goal in the 2020s and 2030s without purchasing large numbers of submarines within a short period of time in an environment of constrained budgets.

Thirty-year plans also expose future aircraft shortfalls, the CBO said, and could also be useful for analysis for ground combat vehicles, rotary and fixed aircraft wing, and trucks.

Another article argues that the Weapon Acquisition Systems Reform Act of 2009 may have prevented or better managed the problems that occurred in the F-22 program. In the Spring 2011 issue of the Public Contract Law Journal, Daniel K. Oakes argues that creating and elevating new personnel positions—a Director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation ("DCAPE"), a Director of Developmental Test and Evaluation, and a Director of Systems Engineering—and new reporting requirements and strengthened termination provisions create "real" potential for reform:

When applied retroactively to the F-22 acquisition, the various directors...could have had an impact on obtaining more realistic cost and schedule estimates, developing more realistic performance expectations, and identifying and addressing immature technologies and costly changes during the acquisition.

Both the CBO's testimony and Oakes argue, however, a lot of this comes down to leadership and discipline—both at the Pentagon and Congress. As a result, we may not need new rules, only to follow the ones that exist. What do you think, readers? We're sure that frequent commenter Dfens would agree that Congress and the Pentagon need to have more backbone when it comes to contractor discipline—what about our other commenters?

By: Mandy Smithberger
Director, CDI Straus Military Reform Project, POGO

Photograph of Mandy Smithberger Mandy Smithberger is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: National Security, Contract Oversight

Related Content: Defense

Authors: Mandy Smithberger

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