Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter Nov. 13 unveiled a proposed new phase of the Defense Department’s “Better Buying Power” initiative that since 2010 has shaped the department’s acquisition arm to “do more without more.”
Carter told reporters during a Pentagon briefing that when he, as undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, and then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced the first round of “efficiencies” aimed at trimming defense spending, Gates “foresaw, correctly, that the days of ever-increasing defense budgets were coming to an end.”
Better Buying Power, introduced in September 2010, was the acquisition contribution to the efficiencies initiative, Carter said.
“It was directed at the $400 billion that the department spends annually on goods and services, … to get more capability for the warfighter and more value for the taxpayer by obtaining greater efficiency and productivity in defense spending what economists call ‘productivity growth,'” he explained.
Now, after planning for a $487 billion decrease in spending over the next decade, the department will incorporate some lessons its members have learned since 2010 when it rolls out the final version of Better Buying Power 2.0 early in 2013, Carter said.
The deputy secretary said hundreds of examples exist of Defense Department acquisition executives putting the Better Buying Power principles into practice. “Each of these examples shows what we can achieve if we rededicate ourselves to acquisition best practices,” he added.
Carter then handed the briefing off to Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. Kendall noted the department’s proposed plan for the updated initiative will be open for review and comment for two months before a final version takes effect.
Kendall described the seven broad focus areas for the new defense buying initiative:
- Achieve affordable programs;
- Control costs throughout the product life cycle;
- Offer incentives for productivity and innovation in industry and government;
- Eliminate unproductive processes and bureaucracy;
- Promote effective competition;
- Improve tradecraft in acquisition of services; and
- Improve the professionalism of the total acquisition workforce.
Kendall noted the new version includes some 36 initiatives grouped under those seven headings. In some cases, he said, they replace the original 23 initiatives in five focus areas.
“It turns out that defense acquisition is a pretty complicated subject,” he noted. “And there aren’t easy, simple solutions that are going to … reform acquisition and make everything … better overnight with one or two policy changes.”
Lack of productivity — both in government’s bureaucratic processes and in industry “cycle time” – is one complicated area the acquisition chief said he thinks a lot about, and which carries over from the original 2010 initiative. Cycle time, he said, translates into “how long it takes us to get products to the field” – and he added that he’s “very unhappy” with the answer.
“It’s taking much too long, as far as I’m concerned,” Kendall said. “And I have several efforts under way to try to understand what the root cause of that is.” Delays can occur at many stages, he noted – in setting and changing requirements, in testing, and even in production.
“Is industry not as agile as it once was? There are a number of possible causes there, and it’s probably some combination of them all, together. … But I would definitely like to reduce cycle times,” he said.
The new effort brings new approaches, but the same aim, to defense acquisition as 2010’s Better Buying Power initiative, Kendall said: to give troops fighting the nation’s wars the best equipment, and to get good value for every taxpayer dollar.
Kendall said he sees results from the two-year-old effort, but he echoed defense leaders’ statements for months past when he warned that such progress, and any plans to achieve deliberate cost savings, will wither if the Budget Control Act’s sequester mechanism takes effect in January.
Sequestration would trigger an additional $500 billion in across-the-board defense spending cuts over the next decade if Congress fails to agree on an alternative.
“It’s a horrible way to take money out [of the defense budget],” he said. “It really flies in the face of everything we’re trying to accomplish here.”