In a refreshing piece of candor, outgoing Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology & Logistics John J. Young, Jr. gave his final media roundtable, where he expressed concerns that the attention being paid to acquisition reform and revamping the acquisition process will lead to more regulations and oversight, and put additional burdens on the acquisition community. Of particular concern was the need to allow acquisition professionals to focus on running their programs:
…"The process we're heading further into is a tax code-like governance process for defense acquisition," Young said. "The more we do this, the more program managers will have to do to comply and they'll spend less time managing their programs."…
I share this concern with Mr. Young, particularly with the focus on contracting tools and procedures that have come out of the White House in President Obama’s OMB directive, and the possible handcuffing of contracting tools by limiting cost type contracts in favor of fixed type contracts. What I am referring to is the creation of further regulations and legislative actions that do not make sense, and may make the difficult jobs of acquisition professionals even harder. Further, these legislative actions rarely are done with a concern for empirical data and impact on costs, as legislators only focus on perceived benefits which also are difficult to measure without a sound business case for why a change may be needed. The costs of implementing legislation should never exceed the desired outcomes or benefits, but this type of logic is demanded by acquisition leaders without being considered by the same legislators who create the legislation in the first place.
Also of note in his comment was his attention to program managers. I am not sure if he misspoke, but the acquisition process would be best served by having a fully functioning IPT of both program personnel (program mangers, engineers, budget analysts, etc.) and contracting personnel (contracting officer, COTR, etc.). In reality it is the contracting personnel that have to adhere to the burdensome rules for acquisition execution, while program managers often are faced with different challenges in respects to acquisition regulations in the execution of programs.
I applaud and thank Mr. Young for his service, as he mentioned his focus during his tenure:
…"People run programs, not documents and processes," he said. "You need to have good people and leave room for judgment to get the best deal for the taxpayer."…
Acquisition reform cannot, and should not, focus just on processes and legislation. It needs to focus on rebuilding a workforce that has been decimated by underdevelopment and being undervalued, which requires a focus on changing the culture of the federal government such that acquisition professionals are seen as strategic business advisors and not an impediment to progress. The approach needs to be balanced, as although Stimulus funding was provided for acquisition workforce improvement issues, I do not believe it is nearly enough to fund workforce issues at civilian agencies when compared to DoD.
One comment from Mr. Young, sadly, was his perceived inability participate in the economy:
…"I don't think you should come into this building and essentially give up any right to participate in the economy," Young said. "You get paid a salary, but beyond that you become almost a monk and get all kinds of restrictions levied on you trying to help your country and do the right thing."…
I don’t think anyone comes into federal service with the intention on getting wealthy. Mr. Young, I am sure, has a very specialized and high-demand skill set that will command a very healthy compensation package wherever he may go. I hope that is the case, but I was disappointed in his comment as he seemed to be bitter at the fact that public service entails sacrifice and a dedication to duty. If he was not willing to make these sacrifices, why serve?