Pulling no punches on Army acquisition

Buylines | Policies, strategies and trends to watch

The October report from the Special Commission on Army Acquisition and
Program Management in Expeditionary
Operations, led by former Defense undersecretary
Jacques Gansler, contains some
important findings and a set of recommendations that
will require collaborative leadership from the Army,
Defense Department and Congress.

In unusually blunt language,
the commission concluded that
the Army has not structured its
acquisition capabilities to meet
its contemporary mission nor
has it provided needed
resources. The report identifies
shortfalls in the acquisition
workforce, a decline in senior
military leadership with acquisition
expertise and weaknesses in
civilian personnel policy.

According to the report, those
factors have combined to inhibit
the Army's support of its contingency
and expeditionary operations.
Accordingly, the commission recommends
four major areas for action:
  • Increasing the "stature, quantity,
    and career development" of military
    and civilian contracting personnel.
  • Restructuring organizations.
  • Enhancing training and tools.
    beyond the currently available
    coursework and resources.
  • Aggressively addressing legislative,
    regulatory and policy barriers, particularly,
    but not solely, in the personnel
    arena.

None of those issues is new. Many
have been cited in Government
Accountability Office reports, by the
Special Inspector General for Iraq
Reconstruction (SIGIR), and in the
Professional Services Council's joint
work with the Army on Iraq contracting
lessons learned. Some or all have
also been prominent in other assessments
of government acquisition. But
this report is among the most focused
and actionable of its kind. Moreover, its
relevance goes well beyond the Army.

A broad consensus exists that the
government's acquisition infrastructure,
while far from the dysfunctional,
abuse-prone mess that some allege, is
nonetheless in dire need of new energy,
commitment and resources. There
is also a broad consensus that the
acquisition leadership across the
agencies and on Capitol Hill has not
been what it needs to be. Indeed, as
the Gansler Commission report says,
acquisition must be, but most often is
not, seen and treated as a critical,
core, management and strategic competency
of the government.

It's not that Congress or the agencies
have ignored acquisition workforce
issues. The Senate-passed
Collins-Lieberman contracting bill
has important provisions designed to
bolster the acquisition workforce, and
the fiscal 2008 Defense appropriations
law funds additional contracting,
program management and auditing
positions. Other legislation contains
additional acquisition workforce
provisions. And the federal agencies
have been conducting competency
surveys to identify their skills gaps
and needs in the contracting arena.

But all of those initiatives represent
just a start and are generally limited
in scope. The Gansler Commission
concluded that the Army's acquisition
system is in need of a comprehensive
retooling of its organizational structures,
personnel policies and priorities.
The commission also recommended
that the emphasis be on the
front and middle of the process ?
particularly requirements definition
and contract administration ? rather
than overreliance on after-the-fact
auditing and second-guessing. Again,
the same can be said of acquisition
across the federal government.

Many special government commission
reports drop quickly from view
following their initial release and once
the true complexity of the issues
involved becomes clear. How many
remember the recommendations of
the Volcker Commission, which concluded
that the government is trying
to meet 21st-century needs with a
20th-century structure? What about
the SIGIR's series of reports on contracting,
program management and
personnel? Anyone who remembers
will see familiar themes in the Gansler
Commission report.

The odds are against it, but we
should hope that this report will have
a more lasting effect than many that
have preceded it and that the government
will promptly and fully implement
its common-sense and targeted
recommendations. We know the lessons.
The question is whether we've
really learned them.

Stan Soloway is president of the
Professional Services Council. His e-mail is
soloway@pscouncil.org.

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