DOD acquisition czar wants prototype competition

The nominee for the post of top DOD acquisition official favors requiring two or more competing teams to develop prototypes during the early stages of defense programs.

John Young, the nominee for the under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, sent senior military leaders a memo last month stating that all pending and future programs may proceed only if program officials make just such a change in their acquisition policy.

According to the document, an increased emphasis on competition and prototyping would reduce technical risks, validate system designs and evaluate manufacturing processes. "In total, this approach will also reduce time to fielding," the memo states.

The document was first reported by Insidedefense.com. A copy is available on the Web site of Washington-based government watchdog group Project on Government Oversight.

POGO defense investigator Nick Schwellenbach said the memo enacts a much-needed change in policy at DOD. "Let's force the contractors to come to us with more developed ideas," he said.

Schwellenbach said a competitive prototyping policy could possibly have helped avoid cost overruns and reliability problems in the Marine Corps' Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program.

Young's new policy could lead to competition among industry prototypes competing for the Air Force's high-priority Combat Search and Rescue vehicle program if the service issues new requests for proposals for the program, Schwellenbach said. In August, the Government Accountability Office called for a re-evaluation of proposals for the program after it sustained protests from Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky against the Air Force's choice of Boeing to supply the helicopter.

The new policy could lead to a number of secondary benefits, including increasing and strengthening the interaction of government and industry management teams, Young wrote. The increased emphasis on prototyping would help develop and enhance systems engineering capabilities, retain people with critical engineering skills throughout the government and the industrial base, and attract young talent to the field of science and engineering, according to the document.

DOD officials have said the United States' graduation rate of technical and engineering students is rapidly falling behind that of possible U.S. competitors, such as China.

"Many troubled programs share common traits," Young wrote. "The programs were initiated with inadequate technology maturity and an elementary understanding of the critical program development path. Specifically, program decisions were based largely on paper proposals that provided inadequate knowledge of technical risk and a weak foundation for estimating development and procurement cost. The department must rectify these situations."

During his confirmation hearing last week before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Young said he would make a number of corrections in DOD's weapons buying processes if the Senate confirms him.

Young said he would work to instill a sense of realism in the process of establishing requirements for new systems. Many of DOD's weapons systems have experienced cost overruns and schedule slips because officials make overly optimistic estimates about the cost and timing necessary to complete projects, he said.

Young has been the acting undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics since his predecessor, Kenneth Krieg, left DOD in July. Young will also continue as director of defense research and engineering until the Senate makes a confirmation decision. He had been the Navy's top acquisition official and a professional staff member on the Senate Appropriations Committee's Defense Subcommittee.

At the hearing, lawmakers called for his speedy confirmation. But at press time, the panel had not voted, according to a spokeswoman for Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the committee's chairman. The committee likely will do so after this week's recess, she said.

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