The initial tenor of today's House Armed Services air and land forces subcommittee hearing on the KC-X tanker program can be summed up in three words: what went wrong. "How does a high priority acquisition program, with intense oversight and scrutiny at the highest levels of the Department of Defense, fall so far short of the mark?" asked Rep. Jim Saxton (R-NJ), the ranking member of the subcommittee. Among the issues Saxton wants addressed are the requirements development process and how requirements drive the acquisition process.
Rep Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, took the long view, noting that replacing the KC-135 fleet "has taken several wrong turns and dragged on far longer than it should." Skelton echoed Saxton in remarks on the apparent failure of the acquisition to deliver a sound process as it weighed which plane to buy."
Subcommittee chairman Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hi.) agreed with his colleagues, adding that the "acquisition process has to be fixed. Is it too complex? Do we have the right people? Do they have the right training?" Abercrombie noted that the hearing is the "start" of the process to find those answers. "We must act promptly. We must act properly. We must fix the system."
Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), a senior member of them House Appropriations defense subcommittee, is attending the hearing at the invitation of the subcommittee chairman. He has not spoken yet.
When members return from a series of votes, members will grill two witnesses from the Government Accountability Office, which found "serious" errors had been made in the tanker bid process. Daniel Gordon, deputy general counsel, and Michael Golden, managing associate general counsel of the GAO's procurement law division, will handle those questions.
They will be followed by John Young, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. After members finish with Young they will move to a closed session. That may turn out to be the most incendiary session as the Air Force's head of acquisition, Sue Payton, will testify. Payton's appearance at the closed session was negotiated with DoD. Payton, according to the memo prepared for members about the hearing, will be expected to answer the crucial question -- does the Air Force think the GAO was right in its criticisms. Oh, to be in that room.