Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Inmates Are Going To Run The Asylum

We all believe that the Pentagon acquisition system is badly broken and needs to be reformed.  How to do that, however, is highly debatable.  The latest trend sees the Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) pushing the milestone decision authority back down to the individual services (1).

“Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, logistics and technology, or AT&L, said her intention is to continue to hand off the day-to-day running of programs to the services, preferring her office serve as a kind of high-level group providing overall guidance.

… Lord said she intended to shift the “bulk” of major defense programs from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, or OSD, down to the services …”

For the Navy,

“The same [transfer of milestone authority to the services] is happening with the Navy. James Geurts, the newly confirmed service acquisition head, testified that the Navy currently has milestone decision authority for 40 ACAT 1 [Acquisition Category 1] programs, including the future Guided Missile Frigate and the MQ-25 unmanned system, a change from before the 2016 NDAA. More importantly, the service is in charge of five of its 10 ACAT 1D programs, the biggest efforts that require the most oversight.”

What could possibly go wrong?

The concept is to allow program managers in the services manage their programs with less oversight.  The hope is that this will streamline and speed up the overall acquisition process – and it will!

Now let’s look at why it will.

The Navy is famous for battling DOT&E, the military’s testing organization.  The Navy consistently makes claims of progress and performance that are proven to be largely false when subjected to DOT&E testing.  The DOT&E test results are currently factored into the milestone decision process and the Navy is not very happy about that because the program failures are brought to light and the programs are delayed, modified, or cancelled as a result. 

With milestone decision authority now resting with the Navy, it’s a pretty safe bet that almost nothing is going to be negatively evaluated or delayed.  This will essentially relegate DOT&E to irrelevance since the Navy can freely ignore the test results.  We are going to see a slew of bad weapon systems getting approved with nothing but glowing statements about how they will revolutionize warfare.

How did this change start?

“The drive to push milestone authorities out to the services originated with the office of Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who chairs the SASC. He included such a demand as part of a wide-ranging package of reform efforts in the 2016 NDAA.

Not everyone agreed with the changes.

Such a move was opposed by Frank Kendall, who led AT&L [Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics ] from May 2012 until President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January of this year. Part of Kendall’s opposition was about oversight, with concerns that the services would run wild without AT&L keeping a close look at what they were doing.” [emphasis added]

What was Sen. McCain’s response to these concerns?

“While we have empowered the services, that doesn’t mean you can go and do whatever you like,” the chairman admonished his witnesses. “The services must let OSD set strategy and policy and do real oversight. That means being transparent — providing data to, and following the guidance set by, OSD.”

Yes, that should work because the Navy is all about transparency – you know, other than refusing to provide data to DOT&E and refusing to allow an accounting audit!

I’m all in favor of acquisition reform but this isn’t the way.  Giving the services, who have consistently botched every program and lied about performance, more acquisition decision authority is not the way to do it.

The inmates are going to run the asylum.  I can’t see anything going wrong with this.


(1)Defense News website, “Policy shift: DoD is pushing major program management back to the military”, Aaron Mehta, 11-Dec-2017,


  1. Speaking of the Navy battling DOT&E, what is to become of the full ship shock trial of the CVN-78?

    1. The latest I hear is that the Navy has cancelled plans to shock trial the Ford and "may" test the Kennedy or Enterprise, instead. Of course, when that time comes, they'll find a reason not to do it.

  2. I am generally impressed with Sec Mattis, but his selection of a Defense CEO to head Defense Acquisition is a real bonehead move. I wonder if this is what happens when you try to have a Warrior run everything. Given his reputation as a thinker, I had hoped he would have selected someone like a Bob Packard for this position. As you say it is a bad day for the Asylum (taxpayers and troops) but a good day for the inmates (Defense Companies and Sellout Officers).

  3. Slightly off-topic, CNO but I thought you would want to know that even NPR was dragging the Marines this morning for conducting mock contested amphibious assaults. They are doing a big one down in Pendleton and NPR was interviewing a general about it. They really were not letting him off the hook about how absurd it was against a peer or near-peer.


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