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Donley and Schwartz on AF Acquisition

The daily press focused on the nuclear weapons fiasco during the nomination hearing today for the prospective Air Force Secretary and its Chief of Staff, Michael Donley and Gen. Norton Schwartz.

For those who watch money and strategy there was much buried in the more than 80 pages of questions and answers the two men submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee. I poured through it and found a few interesting tells.

Next to nukes, acquisition looks like the biggest issue for these two men. Donley, noting he has told the service to review lessons learned from the tanker fiasco, killed a few trees acknowledging that requirements creep may be the biggest problem the service faces in controlling costs. He and Schwartz insisted in reply to written questions that the basic Air Force buying system is not broken. The committee asked Donley [that's him in the photo] whether three recent botched acquisitions -- tanker twice and the $50 million contract to promote the Thunderbirds air show -- add up to "serious problems" in the acquisition system. Donley said that each case involved "different circumstances," adding that he plans two 90-day reviews of Air Force acquisition, one internal and one external, to figure out what needs fixing and map out the way ahead.

Donley said the increase in protests are driven in part because major contract awards are "make or break events for" the companies that remain after the last decade of industry consolidation.

Donley was asked if he would curtail the Air Force's increasingly brazen efforts to bolster its own budget even if it is contrary to the established policies and budget of the administration. "Competition for resources is as old as Washington itself," he wrote. He also said he had spoken with his staff about curbing such efforts and said he would make sure they responded to congressional requests for information and "use established procedures" consistent with DoD guidance.

Space issues loomed large in Donley's questions. He was asked about his relationship with the director of the National Reconnaissance Office, builder and operator of the nation's spy satellites. The Air Force and NRO have had a rocky relationship the last five years. Donley said he would work with director Scott Large "to ensure we coordinate efforts in areas of joint interest." That's not exactly a ringing endorsement of bolstering what used to be a close relationship but may be a reasonable position in light of just how far apart the two communities have drifted apart. That relationship will be crucial in guiding the way forward on Space Radar.

Donley indicated he would try and win back milestone decision authority from the undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics for space programs. The Air Force was stripped of that authority several years ago. When I asked ATL head John Young recently if he planned to turn it back over to the Air Force any time soon he said that would not happen on his watch.

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