Pentagon acquisition reforms may get more scrutiny

Dr. William LaPlante, then Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, takes questions at a 2015 press conference, flanked by Gen. Robin Rand (left) and Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch Jr.

Dr. William LaPlante, then Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, takes questions at a 2015 press conference, flanked by Gen. Robin Rand (left) and Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch Jr. U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash

William LaPlante, who has been nominated to be the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, indicated that he would review recent acquisition reforms and champion modern software practices if confirmed.

The White House's pick to be the Pentagon's top weapons buyer wants to make sure warfighters get the latest tech as quickly as possible – and that starts with reviewing the previous administration's attempts to do that. 

William LaPlante, who has been nominated to be the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, wrote in response to policy questions that, if confirmed, he would review recent acquisition reform efforts taken at the Defense Department in recent years – particularly the Adaptive Acquisition Framework. 

LaPlante, who testified during his nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 22, said that he was committed to acquisition and policy flexibility to keep up with current threats. But later noted that he would review what was touted as one of the largest acquisition reforms the Pentagon did during the Trump administration. 

"If confirmed, I will lead a data driven review of the advantages and disadvantages of the Adaptive Acquisition Framework," LaPlante wrote further down in the document. "At the end of my review, I will recommend ways to improve the performance of the Defense Acquisition System."

That review of recent acquisition reforms also extends to other transaction agreements with consortiums. LaPlante wrote that he saw the value in "other transaction" consortium agreements because of their ability to open up participation to companies that might not otherwise get involved with defense prototype development. 

But he also indicated that he would investigate their use and address concerns, if warranted, that using OTA consortium agreements reduces transparency and "limit reporting and accounting of individual transactions.". 

LaPlante served on the Section 809 panel, which issued nearly 100 recommendations for the Defense Department to improve its tech buying practices. Most of those recommendations have yet to be adopted but LaPlante said he would revisit reforms once he can "fully understand the impact of the changes from the last four years," according to the document.

The former assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition also named software as chief priority. "We must improve our ability to acquire software and software-intensive systems," LaPlante testified.

"While DOD has made considerable progress in adopting modern software practices over the last few years, there is still much work to be done in transforming our processes, tools, culture, and workforce," LaPlante wrote. 

LaPlante noted that, if confirmed, he would push to hire more software experts and develop the defense workforce with more training and positions for software development and acquisition. 

Additionally, LaPlante, who was previously on the Defense Science Board, wrote that among DOD's biggest challenges with software sustainment are increased costs and access to source code rank high among other things.  

"I believe increasing costs, access to software source code, early focus on designing for sustainment, and investment into modernizing software laboratories are critical issues in the software community," LaPlante wrote, adding that he would work with the defense software sustainment community "to provide rigorous oversight, improve policies, and promote sharing of best practices."

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