The Senate Armed Services confirmation hearing for Dr. Ashton B. Carter for Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, Dr. James N. Miller, Jr. for Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and Ambassador Alexander R. Vershbow for Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs just wrapped up a little while ago. A couple of notes on the hearing for those who missed it:
- Perhaps the most exciting note, consistent with the rumors swirling around in the press, was Dr. Carter saying he will consider cutting programs as he does a "program by program" review. As he said in his advance questions: "If the Department has done its job properly, the cancellation of a multiyear contract should be a rare event. However, there are circumstances under when it could occur. One such event would be the failure to fund a program year. Another would be the failure of the contractor to perform, which ultimately would lead to a decision to terminate for default" (emphasis POGO’s). Additionally, he believes that the Nunn-McCurdy provision already provides the authority to terminate a program breaches this provision.
- Many of the Senators were concerned about getting adequate competition for contracts, given the concentration of the defense industry. Dr. Carter frequently said that competition is the best management tool--"the great discipliner"--in ensuring that the Defense Department and taxpayers get what they need at a reasonable price--we certainly don't disagree. On this note, NextGov's twitter feed points out that President Obama was challenged about the issue of unbundling contracts in order to increase competition in all contracting. Again, something POGO's a big proponent of. President Obama said it's not something we're going to be able to do on everything.
- Dr. Carter said he would support treating missile defense like an acquisition program, which would mean that it would have to meet testing milestones before it could expand.
- When Senator John McCain (R-AZ) asked Dr. Carter about using fixed price contracts, he said that should certainly be the Department's aspiration for programs that have reached maturity.
- Not surprisingly, there was a lot of discussion surrounding the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009 (S. 454), introduced by Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and McCain. Senator McCain said that he doesn't even believe the bill gets at the "magnitude of the problem," including the need for a culture change at DoD. Dr. Carter said that he thought that the proposed legislation addressed many of the problems that occur in the earlier stages of the procurement process, but agreed that there is much more to be done. In the advance questions, Dr. Carter said that he is not satisfied that technology readiness assessments adequately address systems integration and engineering issues at this point in the process that are considered to be the the cause of many cost overruns and schedule delays: "If confirmed, I will direct the appropriate USD(AT&L) offices to ensure that systems integration, systems engineering, and technology maturity issues are properly addressed and coordinated."
Dr. Carter seems to know the challenges he faces. Only time will tell if he can meet them, but we wish him luck.
-- Mandy Smithberger