Fair Buying

/ February 3, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The Aerospace Industries Association is calling on the new administration and Congress to consider "rational reform of the current system and avoid specific complex and unique government acquisition processes that were unsuccessful in the past," according to a report released today.

In a statement, AIA President and CEO Marion Blakey called the report "industry's blueprint to be a constructive voice and partner with the government in achieving that goal."

Consequently, the White House and Congress should focus on three overarching themes this year, according to AIA:

Stability and fairness in contracting and financial policies;
Reform of the major elements of the defense acquisition system; and
Competitiveness and efficiency of the aerospace and defense industry.

In her foreword to the report, Blakey writes:

There has been substantial expansion of acquisition-related legislation in the national defense authorization acts passed during the past 10 years. Since the late 1990s, the number of acquisition provisions put in place by Congress has increased by three-to-four fold. In the past two years alone, the number has approached 100.

At the same time, there has been growth in the defense budget along with a dramatic reduction in the acquisition workforce-making it almost impossible for acquisition officials to perform their jobs efficiently and in compliance with all rules and laws. Moreover, there is a commensurate cost of compliance on the part of the defense industry included in the prices of goods and services.

The Aerospace Industries Association believes that now is the time to recalculate the imbalances in the defense acquisition system and take action for positive reform to ensure that the policies and processes that govern it are fair, reasonable and flexible.

The detailed AIA paper herein provides an overview of the acquisition system and offers recommendations for improvement. We welcome your comments and suggestions on this positive agenda.

But acquisition reform is a term that has been in use for decades by the Defense Department, and a White House national security paper issued not long after President Obama's inauguration has acquisition reform listed as one of the new administration's defense priorities:

Create Transparency for Military Contractors: President Obama and Vice President Biden will require the Pentagon and State Department to develop a strategy for determining when contracting makes sense, rather than continually handing off governmental jobs to well-connected companies. They will create the transparency and accountability needed for good governance, and establish the legal status of contractor personnel, making possible prosecution of any abuses committed by private military contractors.

Restore Honesty, Openness, and Commonsense to Contracting and Procurement: The Obama-Biden Administration will realize savings by reducing the corruption and cost overruns that have become all too routine in defense contracting. This includes launching a program of acquisition reform and management, which would end the common practice of no-bid contracting. Obama and Biden will end the abuse of supplemental budgets by creating a system of oversight for war funds as stringent as in the regular budget. Obama and Biden will restore the government's ability to manage contracts by rebuilding our contract officer corps. They will order the Justice Department to prioritize prosecutions that will punish and deter fraud, waste and abuse.

The Army's vice chief of staff thinks that the service's Rapid Equipping Force makes an excellent model for future acquisition reform by accelerating solutions that meet operational commanders' needs, Inside the Army reported this week:

The REF, as it is commonly known, streamlines procurement by focusing less on defining requirements and more on “finding point solutions to capabilities shortfalls on the battlefield,” said Gen. Peter Chiarelli at a Jan. 27 Institute for Defense and Government Advancement conference in Washington.

It does this by canvassing the military, government, industry and academia to see what is already available or nearly available that can be delivered in a short time frame to commanders in the field.

Chiarelli praised the organization’s contributions to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and argued that the regular procurement system should try to follow its example.

“It provides a great model for how we might improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the current procurement system in the future,” said Chiarelli. “Rather than waiting seven years for 95 percent solutions, we should work to get capabilities out to warfighters as quickly as possible.”

-- John Liang