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McHugh: Acquisition Reform Remains Top Army Priority

Army Secretary John M. McHugh testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the defense authorization request for fiscal year 2016 and the Future Years Defense Program, March 18, 2015.(U.S. Army photo: John Martinez)
Army Secretary John M. McHugh testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the defense authorization request for fiscal year 2016 and the Future Years Defense Program, March 18, 2015.(U.S. Army photo: John Martinez)

WASHINGTON -- "Historically, the Army's track record on acquisition programs is too often a tale of failure," Army Secretary John M. McHugh told senators.

McHugh was joined by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the defense authorization request for fiscal year 2016 and the Future Years Defense Program, March 18.

There have been "too many underperforming or cancelled programs, too few successful fieldings of developmental designs and far too many taxpayer dollars wasted. We know this and we will do better," McHugh said.

The Army's duty is to "prudently use the scarce resources that the American people provide through all of you," he said, adding that from his first day in office, he has "sought and supported numerous reforms and efficiencies, from improving our procurement process to drastically cutting out headquarters. We take stewardship very seriously."

During the last five years, the Army has made significant strides in reducing bureaucracy and improving oversight, although much more needs to be done, McHugh said.

Odierno said that the expansion of the bureaucracy has to be addressed because it adds "so much time and cost to all our programs."

Besides a bloated bureaucracy, Odierno suggested taking a hard look at the role of lifecycle management and logistics and the role of the service chiefs in the acquisition process, meaning he and the Army need more say in that process.

"There's a message that gets sent throughout the acquisition force that they don't work for the uniformed military, they work for the civilians," Odierno warned. "And I think that's a dangerous message, because I think our experience in support of the process is very important and I think we should play a bigger role in approving where we're going."

The part about "where we're going," he said, includes such things as milestones and how the requirements are established within the acquisition process.

Although saying the Army needs to do an even better job with acquisition reform, Odierno pointed to efficiencies gained by the Army within its own budget.

For example, "we've taken advantage of our warfare reset program to reduce depot maintenance by $3.2 billion. We are reducing our reliance on contractor logistics, saving nearly $2 billion this year," he said. 

Besides that, about $12 billion will, over time, be saved through the aviation restructure initiative, or ARI, said Odierno, referring to moving Apache helicopters from the Guard to the active force in exchange for active Black Hawk helicopters to the Guard.

Another efficiency the Army has created, he said, is the reorganization of "brigade combat teams throughout the force, eliminating overhead and maximizing our combat capacity."

And finally, "we've eliminated nearly 12,000 positions by reducing all two-star and above headquarters by 25 percent and today we continue to find ways for collective training efficiencies," Odierno said.

TENUOUS HOUSE OF CARDS

The president's budget of $126.5 billion for the active Army "represents the bare minimum needed for us to carry out our missions and execute and meet the requirements of our defense strategy," Odierno said. 

"It is, in fact, a tenuous house of cards," he said. 

In other words, he explained, for the $126.5-billion budget to work, all of the Army's proposed compensation reforms must be approved. And, all force structure reforms must be supported, to include the ARI. And, the Army must be allowed to eliminate $500 million a year of excess infrastructure.

Absent those reforms, the Army would face a $12-billion shortfall, he said.

If sequestration were to return, that would add another $6 billion for a total of $18 billion shortfall, he said. That would mean "we could no longer execute the defense strategic guidance."

"Anything below the president's budget compromises our strategic flexibility and inadequately funds readiness and degrades an already underfunded modernization program and impacts our ability to conduct simultaneous operations and shape regional security environments," Odierno said. "It puts into question our capacity to deter and compel multiple adversaries. And if the unpredictable does happen, we will no longer have the depth to react."

"We're mortgaging our future for today" by not doing what needs to be done, Odierno concluded.

Would not doing what needs to be done result in the loss of Soldiers placed in harm's way? a senator asked Odierno.

Yes, he responded. There would be a higher likelihood of risk for anyone - Soldier, Sailor, Airmen or Marine - placed in harm's way.

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Army Budget