Beware U.S. defense program managers and contracting officials: Your name is on a list.
The Pentagon's acquisition czar keeps a chart in his office of defense programs and their current and past managers; it just one of the subtle, albeit significant, personnel-oriented changes that are being pursued in what is dawning as a new era of acquisition reform. While the latest effort to rein in the sprawling defense acquisition complex is almost certain to have new lawmaking and regulations accompanying it, some as early as this year, what sets this initiative apart so far is a growing focus on individuals.
“I had an occasion recently to go back and look at a program that got in trouble and say, 'I'd like to see who was in charge when they came here and said this was all OK,'” says Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. “There were people who came and said this program is executable, I've got enough money, it's going to work.
I'd like to know who that was, because if it gets in big trouble, I'd like to be able to talk to that person,” he adds.
The follow-up, not surprisingly, also has the potential to be reported to the armed services or agencies that employ those program managers—meaning it could impact assignments, promotions and careers. The accountability measure comes as Kendall also is establishing “professional qualification boards” to review managers “who will handle or be asked to take on what we call key leadership positions.” Those positions include program manager, deputy program manager, chief engineer, chief contracting officer and chief logistics support personnel, all of whom can “make or break the success of a program on the government side.”
Initially, the boards will be advisory and just give their imprimatur to someone's promotion. “But as we get it more in place, I think it's going to become a necessity for people who want to occupy those positions to be certified or qualified by the boards we're setting up,” he says.
Kendall may be able to make a difference with these efforts because he is expected to stay in office long enough to have an effect. That is a change, of sorts, for high-level Pentagon policymaking positions, which regularly churn officeholders after a few years. Kendall—an attorney, U.S. Army veteran, formerexecutive and previously an aerospace and defense consultant—has been the No. 1 or 2 acquisition policy maker since March 2010, and could stay in his current Pentagon office or a higher position for the remainder of the Obama administration.
His changes are part of a larger review effort to look at the accumulated body of defense acquisition laws and regulations which have piled up since the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, to see if and where mandates can be pruned or refined (AW&ST, Dec. 2, 2013, p. 28). Kendall has tasked Andrew Hunter, his former chief of staff and the director of the Joint Rapid Acquisition Office, to lead the review and suggest legislation “to simplify the existing body of law and replace it with a more coherent and user-friendly set of requirements.” Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition Katrina MacFarland is leading another group collecting input from industry.
In late November, Kendall's office also released an interim 5000.02 instruction manual for contracting officials, replacing the last version issued in late 2008. It now encompasses the Pentagon's Better Buying Power initiatives, such as should-cost estimates and affordability analyses that Kendall and his predecessor, Ashton Carter, implemented years ago. Notably, the interim manual is supposed to provide updated examples for contracting officers. “We show people multiple models of how you can structure an acquisition program depending upon what the product is,” Kendall says.
Overall, the Pentagon effort will work with lawmakers like House Armed Services Committee Vice Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), who is leading a related review there. Thornberry is eyed as the next full chairman of that panel if Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) decides against running for reelection in November 2014, as is expected by some aides and others on Capitol Hill.
In the end, the final 5000.02 document and any legislative proposals are expected to reflect Kendall's own philosophy to acquisition oversight: one that stresses accountability of and authority by contracting officials, versus micromanagement and shadowing of military branch acquisition by his headquarters office. “I'm a manager and I like having a clear chain of command,” Kendall says. “Oversight's a very vague term to me. Either you're in charge or you're not.”
Kendall says the service acquisition executives, program executive officers and program managers “are responsible and accountable for the programs they manage; everyone else has a supporting or advisory role.”