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DoD urges more training for requirements writers

Dec. 27, 2010 - 10:23AM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
Frank Kendall, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.
Frank Kendall, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. (Defense Department)

Top Pentagon arms buyers have heard the calls to improve specification development for weapon programs and support services, and are emphasizing better training for the acquisition work force.

Countless lawmakers and analysts have sharply criticized the process the Defense Department uses to decide what features its combat systems should possess.

Senior Pentagon officials have said changes to the requirements-generation process could be enacted next year.

In the meantime, deputy DoD acquisition chief Frank Kendall is urging military acquisition professionals to seek out more training.

"Requirements development … has been identified as a weakness in the department and has led to cost and schedule overruns on many programs," Kendall wrote in a Nov. 19 Pentagon memo. "Requirements development is paramount to successful acquisition outcomes."

In the memo, Kendall urges acquisition workers to "take advantage of [existing] training opportunities and [I] am confident this additional training will help our programs to ensure more successful acquisition outcomes in the future."

The document provides acquisition workers a "matrix" of existing DoD requirements training courses. The longest is 60 days; most range from two hours to five days.

Some lawmakers and analysts have accused the Pentagon of ignoring "requirements creep," which happens when the Pentagon changes its mind about what it wants a weapon to do.

"It's all about requirements," one former senior Office of Management and Budget official said. "You have to figure out what you don't want to pay for. ... This is where savings will come from."

Pentagon officials say as many as five internal DoD working groups are studying how to overhaul acquisition practices and policies; one is aimed at increasing affordability and is looking at requirements creep.

Government auditors recently said the Pentagon's requirements-development and acquisition processes show signs of improvement.

The Pentagon has since mid-2009 "made major revisions" in its weapon-buying practices to emphasize learning more about requirements, technology and design before starting weapon programs, Michael Sullivan, the Government Accountability Office's director of acquisition and sourcing management, told a U.S. House panel in April.

By having a clearer idea of what the military services need and what technology can deliver, the Defense Department is in a better position to deliver weapons on time and at the estimated cost, Sullivan said.

A bipartisan panel that compiled an alternative to the Pentagon's 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review hit the department hard on its requirements-development process for both combat systems and support services.

"Challenges with the requirements process are a major factor in poor acquisition outcomes," stated the independent QDR panel, chaired by Clinton-era Defense Secretary William Perry and Stephen Hadley, national security adviser to President George W. Bush.

"Most concerning was the fact that the requirements process for the acquisition of services, the largest category of acquisition, is almost entirely ad hoc," the independent panel reported. "The process for developing requirements for the acquisition of weapon systems is overly cumbersome, but also lacking in the expertise and capacity required to truly vet joint military requirements."

One major problem is the length of time it typically takes to design, develop, test and finally field an advanced U.S. weapon, the independent panel said.

"Potential user communities recognize that the capital intensive nature of individual systems means that ‘missing the boat' by not getting a desired requirement included on a system means losing the opportunity to fulfill that requirement for an extended period of time," the Perry-Hadley panel states.

The report proposed several changes, including bringing the uniformed service chiefs into the requirements-development process.

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