DoD finalizing major rewrite of acquisition guidance

Monday - 11/11/2013, 10:25am EST

Pentagon officials are "very close" to finishing their work on an overhaul of the official guidebook to DoD's byzantine acquisition system, and the process led them to the conclusion that they need Congress' help to help unwind a cumbersome maze of laws that have been layered on through decades of well-intentioned reform efforts.

The document in question is officially known as DoD Instruction 5000.02 — the key collection of guidance that describes the military acquisition process. Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, logistics and technology, has been working on a revamped version for months.

"I'll be out very soon," he said Thursday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It's going to emphasize tailoring even more than previous editions did. And we show people multiple models of how you can structure an acquisition program depending upon what the product is. You know, at the end of the day, the way you structure the program to develop, produce and field the product depends on what the product is and what it takes to get that job done. There's a logic and a flow that has to be consistent with what you're trying to accomplish. And it's definitely not a one-size-fits-all business. We do a large range of different types of things."

That tailored approach to acquisition is consistent with the messages in the current Better Buying Power effort Kendall's office has been leading in DoD, emphasizing that the department's own professionals need to use their judgment to structure the right acquisition vehicle and contract type for the right job. The latest version came with the tagline: "A guide to help you think."

Kendall says the rewrite of the instructions was needed, in part, because of several recent laws Congress has passed imposing new requirements on DoD acquisition managers. And reworking the document from scratch led his office to the conclusion that those recent legislative changes were just one more layer on a system that's been growing in complexity for decades.

"There's a section at the front of the 5000.2 which basically lays out what the acquisition system is, what the program structures look like, what the major decision points are and so on. And then there's a series of tables that have all those statutory compliance requirements and those tables go on and on and on. And the reason they're there and the reason there's so much is because of a large body of statutes that have passed over the years covering acquisition," he said. "So if you're a major acquisition program, if you're a major automated systems program, if you're a business program, if you're an IT program, you have a whole set of rules that you have to follow. And, then, of course, we add on to that a few other things such as urgent needs and how we respond to those. So what is needed, frankly, is for me to go back and take a look at all the things, essentially, that we've done since Goldwater-Nichols was passed that have piled on somewhat independently and made our program managers' lives incredibly complex and simplify that."

So, in parallel with the rewrite of DoD's own rules, Kendall's office has begun working to identify areas of federal law that need to be changed in order to make the acquisition process more manageable. It's being led by his former chief of staff, Andrew Hunter.

"And I want to work closely with the Hill on this. I think this is not something we ought to do in isolation," Kendall said. "We don't want to throw everything out and start over, but we do want to take that body of law and look at what's being accomplished by it or attempted to be accomplished by it and simplify it so that program managers have a much clearer, more easily understood body of requirements that they have to follow. And that's not going to be a quick and easy job. It's going to take us several more months, at least."

Meanwhile, Congress itself is at the beginning of a new examination of the defense acquisition system. In late October, the House Armed Services Committee held the first hearing in what it says will be a "long-term effort" to examine and reform the system. That push is being led by the committee's vice chairman, Texas Republican Mac Thornberry.

Back inside the department, Kendall said DoD is taking some new concrete steps to meet one of the seven goals of the Better Buying Power initiative: increasing the professionalism of the acquisition workforce. He says he's just approved a directive that will create a new system of professional qualification boards that will certify that the most important leaders in the acquisition process are up to the task at hand.