Acquisition

Here’s how Ellen Lord grades the Pentagon’s most expensive programs

WASHINGTON – As the Office of the Secretary of Defense gives more control of major defense programs back to the individual services, the Pentagon’s final acquisition, technology and logistics head has created a new system to maintain oversight and track how programs are performing.

Ellen Lord, who on Feb. 1 transitions from AT&L head to be the first undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said she has developed and implemented a new system for tracking the 87 major defense acquisition programs (MDAPs) which together make up almost 96 percent of the Pentagon’s acquisition funding each year.

The goal, she told reporters, is to be able to present Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis with a monthly “stoplight” report that gives him a quick summary of how the Pentagon’s most vital programs are doing.

The system, which is color-based, was set up in September, and at this point Lord said there were “six or so” of the 87 MDAPS that would be marked as red.

But Lord warned that status is not indicative of just one issue, but rather part of an all-in evaluation of where the program is and how it is meeting the needs of the combatant commanders.

“This does not just talk about programatics or about how we’re doing versus that contractor. It backs up to the [combatant commands], the warfighter and what they need in the AOR and if they have enough of something,” Lord said.

“And in some areas we might be constrained in supply, and that’s a whole other area that we’re talking about because we want to make sure that we’ve got that demand signal appropriately and we’re characterizing where we are on a program relative to demand signal.”

The plan is to do monthly program reviews between Lord’s team in the new A&S office and the relevant officials at the service level. And even if the score for a program doesn’t vary much month-by month, Lord believes the exercise itself will pay off for her organization.

“The process of doing it is probably the most important thing because it drives critical thinking and analysis,” she explained. “What we’re doing is, frankly, trying to look at the forest versus the trees if you will. And what we want to do at senior leadership levels is make sure we focus our time and effort on the critical few programs.”

When Lord took office, she made it a priority to begin pushing decision authority on programs down from the OSD level to the individual services, something that was expressly desired by key members of the Congressional defense committees.

As of Dec. 12, 73 of the 87 MDAPs were directly under service control – 18 with the Army, 34 with the Navy, and 21 with the Air Force. Critics of pushing these down to the service level and out of OSD expressed concern that could lead to a lack of oversight, something Lord denied.

“Although we’ve delegated significant programs that doesn’t mean we’re not looking at those once a month and asking questions,” Lord said. “There will be oversight.”

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