Not Enough People to Man the Sinking Ship

The Pentagon's acquisition czar, John Young, is regarded pretty highly on Capitol Hill but he's got a tough sell when he tells lawmakers and reporters that the military is getting a handle on how well it buys the nation's weapons. See my story on military.com for the details.john-young-testifies.jpg

After his testimony yesterday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, I asked Young if the acquisition system is broken, as might seem self-evident to those who look at the enormous increase of $295 billion in the acquisition costs of the 95 major defense acquisition programs over the last few years.

Young said he did not think the system was broken. He pointed to comments at the hearing by the Government Accountability Office's acquisition expert, Katherine Schinasi, who said the structure of the system was sound.

Then Young launched into a lament about the paucity of acquisition officials available to manage the growing number of large programs. He pointed to the enormously difficult process he faces in trying to hire mid-career people from industry to bolster the ranks of weapons buyers. Part of the difficulty the Pentagon faces, he made clear, is that there just aren't enough new ideas and improved processes moving back and forth between government and industry because of this lack of mid-career people.

To someone who has covered acquisition since 1996, much of what Young said had the ring of truth. At the same time he didn't answer the unasked question: if you don't have enough buyers, then why don't you ask Congress for permission and money to hire a whole bunch more.

Perhaps that will come next.

-- Colin Clark

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