DOD acquisition chief recognizes setbacks, notes progress

Ashton Carter's ongoing efforts in acquisition reform are the subject of a March 28 hearing

The Defense Department is making progress in its efforts to reform how DOD purchases weapons and services, but it has a considerable ways to go before meeting its goals, said Ashton Carter, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, logistics and technology.

At a hearing March 28 held by the Commission on Wartime Contracting, Carter outlined progress, admitted to challenges and faced inquiries about contracting practices and logistics.


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He also discussed collaboration with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and how the acquisition initiatives are dovetailing with broader DOD efficiency efforts.

“We are working on the same list of challenges: to combat waste, fraud and abuse in contingency contracting; root out corruption; get control of the particular risks of private security contractors; and, above all, to balance the effective response to warfighter needs and taxpayer dollars,” Carter said.

But he said it’s still early in the efforts, with much still to be done.

“It’s fair to say we’ve not done contingency contracting as well as the taxpayer and the warfighter deserve,” he said.

Carter’s approach to correcting the problems is multipronged and was initially outlined in a 23-point memo released on Sept. 14, 2010. In prepared comments, Carter gave updates on some of the points; and overall, he stressed the importance of reforming the defense acquisition model.

“Many of the problems we face are not unique to contingency contracting, but are related to deeper underlying problems in defense acquisition generally,” he said.

In terms of progress, Carter noted that several of his Better Buying Power initiatives are already being implemented, including procedures for demonstrating affordability, increasing consideration of fixed-price incentive firm contracts, promoting real competition and moving away from “directed buy” from designated suppliers, and establishing senior acquisition management in all military departments. He also highlighted DOD’s establishment of a common taxonomy to promote the sharing of information, decision-making, best practices and lessons learned.

Carter said that he appreciated the involvement of CWC and their recommendations — but he didn’t necessarily agree with all of them. Specifically, Carter said he does not support four CWC recommendations. Among them: guidelines calling for a specialized DOD contingency contracting office; alignment of past performance assessments with contractor proposals; increased use of suspensions and disbarments; and revised regulations that would lower procedural barriers to contingency suspensions and disbarments.

Carter has called for better oversight, something he echoed in today’s hearing, and he highlighted the need to keep DOD contracting open to businesses that haven’t previously done business with the Pentagon.

“It’s important that we not do anything that erects a barrier to a contractor that hasn’t worked with the government before,” Carter said in response to the recommendation regarding past performance assessments.

The CWC hearing can be viewed on C-SPAN by clicking here.

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