Wilson Says USAF Moving Forward on Acquisition Reforms

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Dec. 7, 2017, on acquisition reform. Air Force photo by SSgt. Rusty Frank.

The Air Force is reforming acquisition practices within the service through a focus on experimentation, asserting service authority over major programs, and taking advantage of accelerated hiring processes, Secretary Heather Wilson told Congress Thursday.

The big difference maker, Wilson said, has been “prototyping and experimentation.” The service initiated its recent light attack experiment on March 8, Wilson said, and “in less than five months we had four aircraft on the ramp to test at Holloman Air Force Base” in New Mexico. The paper work for that experiment, in its entirety, consisted of “a letter of invitation and a four-page set of requirements,” Wilson said, noting she just recently received the report on that experiment, though she hasn’t yet had time to review it.

She said the Air Force is working on other experiments to produce an “adaptive engine” that could “get an increase in thrust of about 10 percent with a 25 percent increase in fuel efficiency.” The service has “two contractors working on that,” Wilson said. She also said the Space and Missile Systems Center’s recent award for a space consortium was structured as an experiment, and “it took us three months to put that contract together.”

A second focus for the Air Force has been “delegation of authorities back to the services,” Wilson said. Before this shift started, 19 of the 49 largest Air Force programs, or almost 40 percent, were managed at the Department of Defense level, Wilson said. “Today I have 76 percent of those programs,” Wilson said. Last week, DOD also delegated the “GPS III follow-on” program to the service, a change that has “saved three months on the timeline to acquire that system,” Wilson said.

Finally, the service is working on “expedited hiring and the professionalization of our workforce,” according to Wilson. In FY17, the Air Force hired 1,600 people through expedited hiring authorities, up from 810 in FY16. The service also hired 266 people in FY17 using “direct hiring authorities” granted by Congress. In FY16 they hired only two people though such procedures, Wilson said.

Despite this progress, Wilson said there is still work to do. “There are areas where we’re frankly not very good at buying stuff,” Wilson admitted. “Software is one real example, and is a continued area of focus and extra emphasis by the Air Force.”

See also: How the OA-X Might Change Air Force Acquisition from the January issue of Air Force Magazine.