Phony Acquisition Reform

Dear Washington Times Editors:

The commentary you published on June 4 by the Deputy Secretary of Defense, William J. Lynn III, "Real Acquisition Reform," is nothing short of pathetic. Lynn's actual record in the recent and more distant past belies his attempt to put himself at the head of reforming the Pentagon.

Heaping praise on the "Weapon Systems Acquisition Act" which is now law, he failed to point out that he was the prime advocate of significantly weakening the bill when it was amended in the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 2. It was a bill already riddled with loopholes in the form of waivers of changes it purported to recommend and the preposterous notion that the key to reform was to permit the Pentagon, not others, to report on itself; to quite literally write its own report card. Lynn's handiwork resulted in the loopholes being made wider, the waivers easier, and contractors, such as his former employer Raytheon, to also be permitted to report on themselves.

The solutions Lynn describes himself and his Pentagon as "aggressively pursuing" are as phony as his previous ministrations when as comptroller (the Pentagon's CFO) during the Clinton administration he sought, and obtained, escape from statutes that demanded financial management integrity for the Defense Department. Had the Pentagon been a private firm during the financial collapses last fall, it surely would have joined Lehman Brothers as an entity too financially hopeless to waste TARP money on.

Today, however, Lynn blesses us with his prescription for reform, as follows:

We need 20,000 new acquisition bureaucrats in the bowels of the Pentagon. This studiously ignores the problem at the top where senior managers have ignored independent cost estimates, warnings of ineffective weapons revealed in tests, and much else time after time. It is the typical excuse of the Pentagon elite that everyone and everything but them is flawed.

Lynn reassures us that he will now rely on independent cost estimates for weapon systems. Why then did he deprive the Director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, just created by the over-hyped "Weapon System Acquisition Reform Act," of the ability to set what weapon systems should cost? The House-written version of the bill did just that, but the provision was gutted in later legislative deliberations in conformance with Lynn's recommendations.

Lynn also promises more competitive prototyping in developing weapons, and yet he assiduously sought adding loopholes to that part of the new bill as well—to permit prototypes of just subsystems to comply and to permit effortless, instantaneous waivers basically whenever the Pentagon bureaucracy preferred.

It goes on and on. Underneath every pretense at reform is the reality of a wide and open path for business as usual—all of it thanks to the road-building skills of Deputy Secretary Lynn.

He closes with the pretense that the reform rubber is hitting the road in the form of the "hard decision" he thinks the Pentagon made by providing different vehicles for the Army's otherwise fundamentally intact Future Combat Systems, a program as riddled with perverse contracting and ideas based on false technological visions (not combat lessons) as there ever was. He could just as well pretended that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' decision to replace the unaffordable and under-performing F-22 with the even worse performing and just about as unaffordable F-35 was a fair picture of Lynn's vision of reform.

It's too bad you didn't select to have a contravening editorial in your paper. We could have given you a few ideas.


Winslow T. Wheeler—Director, Straus Military Reform Project and editor of "America's Defense Meltdown: Pentagon Reform for President Obama and the New Congress."

"Real Acquisition Reform" was first published by The Washington Times on June 4, 2009; the text is reproduced below.

"Real Acquisition Reform: Spending in a way that better helps our troops"

by William J. Lynn III

American taxpayers and our men and women in uniform are understandably skeptical when they hear promises to reform the Defense Department's sprawling acquisition system, which often delivers major weapons systems to our troops years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.

Like Mark Twain's famous observation about the weather, it seems everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything about it.

"Problems are deeply entrenched and have developed over several decades," one study noted. "Too many of our weapons systems cost too much, take too long to develop, and, by the time they are fielded, incorporate obsolete technology." That was the troubling diagnosis of a blue-ribbon commission—in 1986. Yet despite repeated attempts at reform, including more than 130 commissions and studies, the core problems persist.

Why, then, will our reform efforts be any different? For the first time in decades, the political and economic stars are aligned for a fundamental overhaul to the way the Pentagon does business.

In President Obama, we have a commander in chief who has made acquisition reform a priority. With our troops engaged in two wars and with the country facing record deficits and an economic crisis, the president understands, as we all do, that wasting billions of dollars on weapons ill-suited for today's conflicts is an affront to our warfighters and taxpayers alike. So he has spoken clearly to those of us charged with fixing this problem: "No more excuses, no more delays."

In Congress, we have a broad and bipartisan commitment to major reform. Led by Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat; Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican; and Rep. Ike Skelton, Missouri Demo-crat; Rep. John M. McHugh, New York Republican; Rep. Robert E. Andrews, New Jersey Democrat; and Rep. Michael K. Conaway, Texas Republican, Congress passed - by unanimous votes in both houses - the Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act. The legislation was designed to bring greater oversight and accountability to the earliest phases of major acquisition systems. The president signed that legislation into law before Memorial Day, and the department is moving quickly to implement its provisions.

Also, in Robert M. Gates, we have a defense secretary determined to correct the Pentagon's failure to quickly deliver lifesaving equipment and technologies to our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan—failures that led him to simply bypass the traditional procurement system in order to equip those forces with the unmanned aerial vehicles and explosive-resistant armored vehicles they needed. "There have been enough studies. Enough hand-wringing. Enough rhetoric," Mr. Gates has said. "Now is the time for action."

As a result, the Defense Department is aggressively pursuing major reforms of how we develop, test and field the weapons our troops need:

(1) To ensure we have a strong work force with the skills necessary to manage major systems, we're increasing our acquisitions work force by 20,000 positions, including new cost estimators, systems engineers and program managers.

(2) To reduce the risk that costs will spiral out of control—and as Congress and the president have directed—we will rely more on independent cost estimates at the start and bring more discipline to the entire acquisition process.

(3) To better harness the creative and economic power of competition, we will have competing industry teams make prototypes of systems before choosing the best and most affordable ones to produce.

(4) To prevent programs from ballooning in cost and stretching in schedule, we will use more fixed-price development contracts. We will also institute new mechanisms to prevent endless "requirements creep" in which the desire for an ever-elusive perfect system can result in no system being delivered at all.

Of course, none of these reforms will work unless we are prepared to take a final step—reforming or canceling weapons programs that are not on track to provide our warfighters what they need when they need it. We have started making those hard decisions in our proposed budget for next year.

We're reshaping the Army's Future Combat System. We have halted the $87 billion program to develop a lightly armored ground vehicle so that future vehicles reflect the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan. And we are pushing out, throughout the Army, the new networking technologies and unmanned vehicles needed on the battlefield today.

Rather than take a business-as-usual approach to troubled programs—simply readjusting our expectations for cost, schedule and performance—we've canceled programs like the $19 billion Transformational Satellite program. This was a classic example of a promising but unproven exotic technology.

To avoid the inevitable schedule slips and cost overruns, we will instead buy satellites with more mature and proven technologies. Finally, we canceled the new presidential helicopter, the VH-71, which was years behind schedule with a cost that had doubled, to more than $13 billion.

In short, being tough-minded on acquisition reform is part of being serious about a strong defense. We have increased defense spending by 4 percent, and we are using those increases to put proven technologies like unmanned aerial vehicles into the field immediately. Indeed, every dollar we save through acquisition reform is another dollar we can devote to the capabilities our troops need today and tomorrow. This is what the American taxpayers expect and what our warfighters deserve.

William J. Lynn III is the deputy secretary of defense.