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Gates Should Say Sorry on Tanker to Boeing, Northrop CEOs

Defense Secretary Robert Gates should call in the CEOs of Boeing and Northrop (and probably EADS), apologize to them for the tanker fiasco and promise to make it right by conducting the cleanest, most technically rigorous contract award humanly possible.

That’s what two of America’s most experienced acquisition experts say needs to happen, and fast.

 “I think they need to do that to simply take the political element out of it. The last thing we need is to allow the acquisition process to be politicized,” says Frank Cevasco, an international defense consultant and former head of cooperative programs and director of NATO policy at the Pentagon.

 “You have to call in the CEOs of those two companies and apologize to them and make it right. You want them to have confidence in you,” a long-time procurement analyst told me.

 Part of the problem the Pentagon faces is that almost all of its acquisition community, both with the Air Force and with the undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, John Young, has been tainted by the conclusions of the Government Accountability Office.

 “Somebody has to exercise some leadership and say, we have the highest regard for your companies and we are committed to you as allies,” said a long-time procurement analyst. “All we can do is start over and go by the book.”

 Cevasco notes that “that there was a substantial amount of oversight from John Young and his people and they gave a thumbs up to the process so there have to be questions about just how well they actually oversaw everything.”

 Perhaps one way to help restore confidence in the process would be to do a stand-down of the acquisition system, as the Air Force did recently with its nuclear forces. That, Cevasco says, would give the leadership a chance to make sure everyone is focused on making the system work and knows the basic rules and laws underpinning it. It would also send a very clear message to industry and to the public that the Pentagon knows it has a problem and knows it must fix it.

 That does not mean changing the rules. The acquisition expert says that the laws, regulations and policies underpinning the system are fundamentally sound and do not need changing. What does need changing -- and Young has acknowledged this -- is the size and quality of the acquisition workforce.

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