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Air Force regains decision authority on acquisition programs

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Feb. 15, 2006) -- The Air Force recently regained oversight authority on some of the acquisition programs taken from it more than 10 months ago.

The Department of Defense returned major milestone decision authority to the Air Force on 10 of 21 acquisition programs in January. The DOD had taken that authority from the Air Force in March, amid concerns over a service leadership void and Air Force acquisition practices.

At the time program oversight was transferred to the office of the secretary of defense, or OSD, the Air Force had no confirmed secretary, undersecretary or assistant secretary for acquisition. The service had also experienced issues on Capitol Hill over some of its acquisition practices, said Lt. Gen. Donald J. Hoffman, Air Force military deputy for acquisition.

"The Air Force has had a series of acquisition episodes regarding the management and oversight of some of our programs," he said. "You couple that with the gaps in leadership and it is was prudent for the OSD to make sure that a clear message was sent that they have solid control of defense acquisition programs."

It was determined by the then undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, Michael W. Wynne, that oversight for 21 Air Force Acquisition Category 1C programs would be moved to OSD.

Acquisition category 1 programs are the highest level and most expensive programs. Oversight for those programs typically rests with the services having the most interest, but it remains at the discretion of the OSD to take control of those programs when appropriate.

"They will let the services run programs unless there is a significant joint aspect to the program, there is a high mount of interest in the program or they want to keep control of it," General Hoffman said. "OSD can say at any time that a program is of high enough interest that they want to have oversight at their level."

While the Air Force still has no civilian assistant secretary for acquisition, the service does now have a confirmed secretary and undersecretary. The Air Force has also made strides in acquisition transparency, General Hoffman said.

"Ever since the Darleen Druyun conviction -- where she did jail time for inappropriate use of her power and position to influence acquisition decisions -- we have been committed to transparency," he said. "We want everybody in the system to understand how we make decisions, what those decisions are, and what problems and challenges our programs have."

Mrs. Druyun improperly negotiated employment with the Boeing Company while employed as an Air Force acquisition official and negotiating with Boeing on behalf of the Air Force.

While under control of the OSD, the 21 Air Force acquisition programs were still managed almost entirely by the Air Force, General Hoffman said.

"After OSD took control of the programs, their day-to-day management did not change at all," he said. "We continued all the program management activity. It is who makes that milestone decision on a major event that changed."

Major decision points, called "milestone decisions," are the points in an acquisition program where major changes are to be made. The move from a research and development phase to full scale production of an aircraft would be a milestone decision.

"The OSD has recognized we have the right leadership in place now to properly conduct and oversee these programs," the general said.

Among the 10 programs that were returned to the Air Force are the Joint Primary Aircraft Training System; the C-130 Aircraft Avionics Modernization Program; the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile; and the C-5 Aircraft Reliability Enhancement and Re-engining Program.

The 11 remaining programs still under OSD control involve space programs. Those programs include the Space-Based Infrared System Program, High Component; the Minuteman III Propulsion Replacement Program; the Transformational Communications Satellite Program; and the Wideband communications satellite system. The space programs will remain under the control of the OSD for an undetermined amount of time, General Hoffman said.