Kendall: Initiative Aids DoD
Acquisitions Culture Change
By Claudette Roulo, DoD News, Defense Media
Washington D.C. – (DOD
News) – July 10, 2014 – The undersecretary of defense for acquisition,
technology and logistics told Congress today that numerous attempts to improve
the acquisitions process over the years have had little discernible impact.
“The evidence, in terms of major program costs and schedule
slips, shows very little statistical change,” Frank Kendall told members of the
House Armed Services Committee. Three conclusions, he said, can be drawn from
“The first is that fixing defense acquisition isn't as easy
as a lot of people seem to think it is,” Kendall said. A second possibility, he
said, is that the department hasn’t been patient or tenacious enough with
acquisition policies. “We don't always leave policies in place long enough to
find out if they work or not,” the undersecretary said. “The frequent rotation
of leadership -- particularly political appointees and career military people --
makes it hard to sustain initiatives long enough to determine if they are
succeeding or not.” Lastly, it’s possible that the department has been focused
on the wrong things, he said.
“Defense acquisition is a human endeavor. And my view is that
we may have focused too much on organizational structures, processes, compliance
with policy and oversight mechanisms, and not enough on providing people with
the skills and incentives they need to succeed,” Kendall said.
But, he added, with the introduction four years ago of the
Better Buying Power initiatives, the acquisitions process is showing signs of
progress. Better Buying Power is “an approach of continuous incremental
improvement based on pragmatism and evidence,” the undersecretary said.
“I can report to you today that after four years, I believe
we are seeing changes for the better,” Kendall told committee members. “And I'm
encouraged that organizations, like the GAO, agree with that conclusion.”
Acquiring cutting-edge weapon systems is a complex job, he
“It requires getting every one of hundreds of decisions right
in an environment where the real incentive systems are not always aligned with
the goal of increased efficiency,” the undersecretary said.
When there is uncertainty about future budgets, as there is
currently, planning becomes excessively difficult, he said.
Better Buying Power initiatives, Kendall said, are
particularly beneficial in a constrained fiscal environment, when every dollar
spent on one program could mean dollars are cut from some other program. “The
Better Buying Power approach identifies areas of acquisition where the greatest
good can be achieved and tries to attack those opportunities,” he said. “As we
learn from our experience, we periodically make adjustments and bring in new
ideas. We reject ideas that don't work.”
This is a pragmatic, incremental approach that stretches
across the entire acquisitions program, Kendall said. From setting affordability
caps to constrain program costs to developing strong contractual incentives to
reduce to a focus on the professionalism of the department's acquisition
workforce, it’s hard, detailed work, he added.
“It takes time, constancy of purpose, and tenacity to be
effective. I don't believe there is any other way to achieve lasting improvement,”
the undersecretary said.
The changes in defense acquisitions aren’t just procedural --
they’re also cultural, Kendall told the committee.
“Academic business literature suggests that two things are
necessary to effect major change in an organization; a period of four or five
years of sustained commitment by senior leadership -- and a crisis,” he said.
“I'm trying to supply the leadership. And the budget situation is supplying the
Against this backdrop, the undersecretary said he is working to transition the
acquisitions workforce from a culture that values spending to one that values
“In government, the built-in incentive system is to spend
one's budget so that funds are not rescinded or reduced in subsequent budgets,”
he said. “Many of the Better Buying Power initiatives are intended to reverse
The second cultural transformation is to eliminate the
check-the-box, or school-solution approach to acquisition, Kendall said.
The defense acquisitions culture should be based on
“professionalism, sound business and technical analysis, and most of all,
critical thinking,” he said.
“The vast array of product and service types the department
buys makes this a necessity,” the undersecretary added. “One-size-fits-all rules
are not the right answer for our acquisition problems, and cannot substitute for
the effective professional judgments that are needed for success in defense
acquisition,” Kendall said. “I do believe we are making progress, but I also
believe we have ample room for additional improvement.”
(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @roulododnews)