Dr. Ashton Carter speaks to more than 700 military and civilian acquisition officials during the Department Of Defense Acquisition Insight Conference April 20, 2010, held at Dayton, Ohio. Doctor Carter is the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. (DOD photo/Erica Kobren)
Dr. Ashton Carter speaks to more than 700 military and civilian acquisition officials and defense industry partners during the Department Of Defense Acquisition Insight Conference April 20, 2010 at Dayton, Ohio. Dr. Carter is the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. (DOD photo/Erica Kobren)
by Derek Kaufman
88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
4/30/2010 - DAYTON, Ohio (AFNS) -- More than 700 military, civilian and contractor acquisition professionals and defense industry partners discussed challenges they face during the Department of Defense Acquisition Insight Conference April 20 through 21 here.
The Pentagon's top acquisition official, Dr. Ashton Carter, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, was among the senior executives.
"Secretary (of Defense Robert) Gates is insistent that we do things differently," said Dr. Carter on the imperative to improve the way U.S. military weapons and systems are acquired and delivered. "There is no silver bullet here; It's not oversight. It's the practice."
The forum, hosted by Defense Acquisition University members, is one of the three largest DAU annual training events for military and civilian acquisition professionals.
Doctor Carter used real-world development challenges with DOD's largest acquisition program, the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter, to illustrate what most urgently needs to be fixed.
The complex acquisition program represents the cornerstone of America's stealthy, multi-role fighter force for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. Many allied nations also plan to buy the F-35 and several are helping to share the cost to develop it.
Despite discipline in keeping F-35 requirements stable, a combination of unforeseen engineering changes and other factors went unacknowledged and virtually unmanaged for two years, resulting in a 30-month delay and $3 billion in additional program costs, according to one estimate.
"We should have better situational awareness and better early warning about the status of our programs," Doctor Carter said.
Once the F-35's problems finally surfaced, DOD and industry officials were able to collaborate and come up with a strategy to reduce the delay to just 13 months, Dr. Carter said.
Secretary Gates withheld certain award fees to the contractor and tied earning them back to meeting specific development and production goals and timelines, so taxpayers didn't bear the additional cost burden alone, Doctor Carter said.
While he underscored the importance of the industry-government partnership, Doctor Carter said a key lesson learned is less reliance on contractor estimates and "a need to strengthen the government's capability for independent technical judgment."
The government must stop the trend of hollowing out DOD's in-house technical capability and then attempting to compensate by adding burdensome oversight, regulation and documentation requirements, he said.
That's another reason why the acquisition workforce improvement plan is so vital, Doctor Carter said. After years of downsizing and outsourcing, the plan includes a number of concurrent efforts to increase the size of the department's in-house acquisition workforce by nearly 20,000 over the next five years through new recruitment and conversion of some contractor functions to government positions.
Enhancing workforce skills through education and training are also key components, with a focus on systems engineering as one example, he added.
Another strategy Doctor Carter said officials can employ to help wrestle in program development costs is to identify when firm fixed-price contracts are appropriate, rather than cost plus award fee contracts.
Firm fixed-price contracts should be used when they make sense to the warfighter and the taxpayer, he said. The intent is to reduce and share technical and business risk.
Ultimately, improving acquisition performance should depend on "quality people making quality decisions, rather than a ponderous process and oversight," Doctor Carter said.
Delivering capabilities on time and on cost benefits both U.S. warfighters and taxpayers, Doctor Carter said.
"The top priority, the No. 1 priority, is to support the troops."