The Department of Defense’s outgoing acquisition chief, Frank Kendall, made headlines when he spoke critically of Congress’s involvement in the defense acquisition process. Kendall noted that cost growth in major weapons programs was at a 30-year low thanks to the Better Buying Power initiative and other homegrown policies, not legislation from the Hill. Kendall had been at odds with senators of late, who want to split his position into two, and he remarked about the ongoing impact of budget sequestration.
But here’s the money quote:
The Hill has a very imperfect tool to try to improve acquisition results, and it’s a blunt instrument,” Kendall said. “It can change things like organizational structures and set very firm requirements for how we do business. Those are not good tools to achieve the results the Hill is after, but they keep trying. As often as not, what they do doesn’t help. What it does do is create more bureaucracy and regulation, because we have to implement everything that gets put into statute and demonstrate compliance. It adds and adds and adds to the body of regulation that’s a burden to our system. I don’t think it’s a fundamental determiner of results, but it is an overhead cost we have to pay.”
The candid talk from Kendall will likely not be received well in Congress, but it does speak to an ongoing concern heard often from government acquisition and procurement professionals: That legislators often meddle in procurement without a strong understanding of how much shifting rules and regulations slow down the work. Kendall calling it an “overhead cost” is a nice way of putting it. In fact, DoD currently has a panel to assess all of its acquisition rules and regulations, and make recommendations on which ones to keep, fix or trash.
But that wasn’t everything Kendall discussed in his final speech. And in fact, different publications picked up on different highlights. The beef with Congress was perhaps the most prominent, but DefenseNews saw it more philosophically, saying it was more about an emphasis on incremental change. It’s behind a registration wall, but Defense Daily elevated Kendall’s skepticism of rapid acquisition. And National Defense Magazine, on the other hand, highlighted Kendall’s concerns over Trump appointees, saying “What scares me … is that we’ll bring in outsiders who have no idea how this place — how the Pentagon works. They will have no idea how the defense industry works.”