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Workforce still tops list of DoD acquisition reform woes

Jul. 11, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By | AMBER CORRIN   |   Comments
The budget situation is making DoD's daunting acquisition problems even harder to solve, says Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall.
The budget situation is making DoD's daunting acquisition problems even harder to solve, says Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall. (Staff)

There’s a laundry list of challenges that for years have marred defense acquisition reform, and workforce issues remain at the top, according to both Pentagon officials and lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

What’s more, the myriad problems within acquisition reform not only create competing priorities for Defense Department leaders, but also tend to exacerbate each other, DoD officials testified during a July 11 House Armed Services Committee hearing.

“The fiscal challenges, shifting operational requirements, the current budget instability deriving from sequestration, years of pay freezes, furloughs, military end-strength reductions and the requirement for commensurate reductions in our civilian workforce, more than a decade of conflict — inevitably all of these things have affected the acquisition workforce,” said Stephanie Barna, acting assistant secretary of Defense for readiness and force management.

Those concerns are all too familiar a refrain for Frank Kendall, under secretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. In the past Kendall has criticized Congress for stymying defense acquisition reform efforts, particularly because of legislative measures such as budget cuts, pay freezes and furloughs, and he reemphasized that point at the hearing.

“I’m trying to supply the leadership, and the budget situation is supplying the crisis,” Kendall said.

Lawmakers generally agreed with Barna’s and Kendall’s points, although Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) noted that he believes the problems go deeper.

"This isn't an indictment of the acquisition workforce…but before sequestration, before pay freezes, before budget uncertainty, we had acquisition problems,” Larsen said. “We were having these problems in the 2000s, when there was certainly no budget uncertainty in the Department of Defense.”

Nonetheless, Kendall and Barna did highlight some progress being made under acquisition reform efforts, including the ongoing implementation and development of Better Buying Power. Barna noted that DoD’s civilian acquisition workforce has grown by more than 20,000 employees over the past five years, to roughly 135,000 workers who comprise some 90 percent of the DoD acquisition workforce. Military employees also have increased by about 2,500 to approximately 16,000, Barna said.

To keep the momentum going, Kendall called on lawmakers to give DoD more flexibility in workforce management, including the ability to promote culture change, reward successes and institutionalize expertise, particularly in IT.

“We need to make clear how important acquisition people are to us – how valued they are. We want people to aspire to leadership positions in acquisition, and to feel like they have accomplished something when they get to those positions,” Kendall said. “I think we can do a lot better [in business systems and IT]. We need professionals in this area…we need people who really understand these areas technically both in terms of how they work but also how to acquire them and transition them.”

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