Richardson to Contractors: “Push Back” Against Pointless Requirements

Lt. Gen. Duke Richardson. Air Force photo.

DAYTON, OHIO–Lt. Gen. Duke Richardson, who will soon take over as the Air Force’s top uniformed acquisition official, told members of industry on June 19 they should resist if the service tries to add unneeded requirements to programs, and he told his own acquisition officials they should heed industry’s requests in this regard “unless it hurts.”

Speaking at Air Force Materiel Command’s Life Cycle Industry Days in Dayton, Ohio, Richardson told industry attendees if the government wants something in a contract “and it’s not value added, push back.” Unneeded requirements can’t be tolerated, he said, because every step and contract action delays programs and adds cost. He promised that the Air Force will listen.

“We act like we have an infinite bag of money,” Richardson noted, and acquisition can’t go on that way. “If you’re running a fixed-price contract, think about it as if it was cost plus. And if you’re running a cost-plus program, think of it as fixed price.”

Such ideas have “transformed my thoughts on acquisition,” he said, and led him to be much more accommodating to industry—and other parts of the Air Force.

On the Presidential Aircraft Replacement program—the new Air Force One—Richardson, who was the program executive officer supervising the program, said his default answer was, “if it didn’t hurt us to give some, we gave some. If it hurt, then we thought about it a little more.” The PAR contract was “not easy,” he said, taking five months to negotiate, but ultimately, “we gave where we could, and everybody said yes” to the final agreement, and “I’m proud of the deal we got.”

What he wants, he said, is a “just right” amount of government oversight on a program.

“I want you to ask, … If this was your money, would you do this?” he said.

Richardson said he generally doesn’t like to waste time revisiting or rethinking decisions that have already been made, but will do so if the facts have changed and there’s new information that has a bearing on a program.

What’s paramount, Richardson asserted, is that both the government and the contractor have to “deliver on our commitments.”

Richardson said he doesn’t believe the acquisition apparatus should merely try to execute what the user’s requirements specify.

“I do think I have a role in requirements,” he said, adding that the acquisition and operations communities have to have a “unity of purpose” to buy equipment effectively.

In his new job, Richardson said he’ll be the “organizer,” while his boss, Will Roper, will be “the idea guy. … He’s got lots of ideas.”

The acquisition community is “all fired up” about new transactional authorities from the Section 804 language, and he wants to seize on that energy to move even faster in procurement. The law, though, is all about “tailoring contracts,” he said, and the authority to do that was already largely in place. He cautioned that if implemented improperly, using the new authorities could “actually lead to more reporting” and oversight.

He wants acquisition officials and contractors alike to drop their existing ideas “when you are presented with a better one,” and “not care about who gets the credit” for a win. He also wants to see vendors cheering each other’s successes, and a focusing on “the nation,” not just the bottom line.

Richardson said he’ll be tolerant if new ideas are tried and fail. “I don’t want us to take away the wrong lessons,” he said, and confront a chorus of people saying, “I knew we shouldn’t have done that.” He noted that he once wrecked his car when he hit a deer, but the lesson learned shouldn’t be, “Don’t drive at night.”