Young Mulls Senator’s Proposal

The Department of Defense’s top weapons buyer has reacted cautiously to the call by the chairman of a key Senate oversight panel for a new office within the Pentagon to independently assess the costs of major weapons programs. “I’d like to reserve the right to think about it,” John Young, under secretary of defense for acquisition, told reporters after an appearance June 3 before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I personally believe the head of the cost analysis improvement group is kind of that person,” he said, adding that “the CAIG is a dominant factor in all my decisions.” During the hearing, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the panel’s chairman, proposed the new independent cost assessor, since, in his judgment, the current acquisition culture is in need of a major change (see above). Young told Levin and other committee members that, while much work remains to be done to reign in the department’s big-ticket acquisition programs, some factors considered as “cost growth” are actually outside of a program manager’s control. The Government Accountability Office report that Levin cited, for example, does not differentiate between cost growth due to intentional programmatic changes, such as unit-buy increases, and cost spikes caused by a program truly in turmoil. The C-130J program has risen in cost by $8 billion, but this is due to the addition of 76 aircraft to the original program of record, Young noted. He also said he continues to push initiatives to counter cost growth, such as giving program managers more freedom of action and promoting prototyping strategies. Such moves, Young said, take on the real drivers in cost overruns: unstable requirements, immature technology, and volatile funding streams.