Oversight Isn’t a Dirty Word

The zeal to streamline defense contracting shouldn’t treat oversight as necessarily bad, Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall writes in his 2015 report on acquisition system performance. Kendall writes that while it’s true that doing defense work requires some extra regulations and costs, these have been largely beaten down in the last few years and are “not excessive.” The contracting nightmares of the last 20 years were often due to not having enough seasoned professionals in the government keeping an eye on contracts, or leaving industry to set its own standards and police itself. In “absolute percentages,?” the extra costs of making sure defense work is done right are “not unreasonable,” and those looking to further reform acquisition shouldn’t cut deeply into “program management and oversight.” There have to be enough experts on the government side in “requirements tradeoffs, cost estimating, market research, negotiation, contracting systems engineering, testing, auditing and others” to make programs work right. Kendall has said that having a right-sized, seasoned, professional workforce is his number-one solution to making acquisition more efficient. Without them, fundamental acquisition capability is “crippled.” Cutting them too much “is a false efficiency and a mistake we have made in the past.” Kendall also warned that attempts to radically change acquisition typically fail, and “change for change’s sake isn’t the answer. Slow and steady improvement is working, he said.