The Department of the Navy is going to get even more serious about cost, performance, schedule and all the other things for which the Pentagon has a bad reputation, two top DoN officials said Wednesday. Reporters asked Undersecretary of the Navy Robert Work at the Navy League's Sea Air Space show how the department would put its straight talk into effect -- new contracting guidelines? Revised RFP practices? No need, Work said: There just won't be as much money.
"Everyone is competing for a smaller top line," he said. "Not everything that we want to do we'll be able to do." The Navy will reward contractors that demonstrate that they get it, Work said, and for ones that don't -- well, sorry 'bout cha.
"We're not going to award contracts just because someone's been building something for a long time," he said.
Work, along with the Navy's top acquisition boss, Sean Stackley, said they want contracts to go faster, be cheaper and deliver more. Specifically, multi-year deals will continue to be an acquisition tool of choice, Stackley said, citing the Navy's Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and its planned TAO(X)-class of oilers as likely candidates to join block-buy legends such as the F/A-18 Super Hornet and the MH-60 Seahawk helicopter.
Coming on the same day as President Obama's speech on the deficit, it's good -- or lucky -- message management for DoD. But let's have a quick reality check: America's defense industry exists because it has the same people who have been building the same things for a long time, in Work's phrase. The Navy effectively has no choice but to buy destroyers from the new Huntington Ingalls, or General Dynamics; it can only buy aircraft carriers from one shipyard, in Newport News, Va. So for as tough as service officials want to get, they don't have very many practical options outside the current ecosystem of contractors -- and with the flat trajectory of defense spending (at best) that ecosystem is not going to get any bigger.