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Army to implement 63 Decker-Wagner acquisition recommendations

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (July 22, 2011) -- The Army will implement 63 of the recommendations put forth in the final report of an Army acquisition review that was charted by the service's secretary.

Since 1996, the Army has spent over $1 billion a year on programs that were ultimately canceled. Since 2004, that number has been between $3.3 and $3.8 billion dollars -- anywhere from 35 to 42 percent of the Army's development, testing and evaluation budget.

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Those details and proposed solutions to improve the Army's acquisition community are detailed in a report released by the Army, July 21.

The report, "Army Strong: Equipped, Trained and Ready" is the final result of an Army acquisition review chartered by Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh to look into the Army's acquisition processes.

The panel that produced the report was chaired by Gilbert Decker, a former Army acquisition chief, as well as Gen. Lou Wagner, the now retired former chief of the Army Materiel Command.

In the report, Decker and Wagner say the Army needs to continue to field the best equipment to Soldiers -- but that there are four challenges to meeting that requirement.

Chief among those challenges, the assertion that core competencies of the requirements and acquisition community have eroded over the past 20 years and are "in urgent need of repair."

The report also says the number of personnel overseeing the acquisition process is rising, while the number of "qualified, accountable professionals charged to develop and produce the product" is going down.

Also a challenge is the non-collaborative nature of the acquisition process, where the report says there are "multiple opportunities for oversight staffs to question and challenge requirements." Approval time for major acquisition programs can be anywhere from 15 to 18 months, the report says, and the challenges of synchronizing the acquisition cycle with the budget cycle can mean "program starts can occur two to three years after the operational need was identified."

The Army acquisition process "has proved ineffective and inefficient," the report reads, and well-intentioned steps to improve it have been "counterproductive." It goes on to say that "even with this laborious process, new weapon systems continue to enter engineering and manufacturing development prematurely with technological risk, leaving a legacy of program cost overruns, reduced quantities fielded and terminations."

More than 70 recommendations were put forth in the Decker-Wagner report to improve the Army's acquisition process -- the same process that procures weapons systems and combat vehicles.

The Secretary of the Army wrote in a July 15 memo that the Army will implement the 57 recommendations the Army can do on its own, and will address six additional recommendations that require input from outside the Army.

Thomas E. Hawley, the deputy under secretary of the Army, has been appointed by McHugh to lead implementation of the recommendations.

"After ten years at war it's time to retrench and look at how and what we are doing," in acquisition, Hawley said, adding that the acquisition of weapons systems, is "extraordinarily complex" and procurement of any system requires "constant scrutiny and adjustment."

The Army Acquisition Review, he said, is a start to fixing acquisition. "We see this study as a useful framework for our internal reform efforts and we will address each issue in some way."

Among the recommendations the Army will implement is to put limitations on the number of key performance parameters and key system attributes, or KSAs, in program.

In a report by the Army that spells out which of the Decker-Wagner after-action review recommendations will be implemented, the Army acknowledges "the number of key performance parameters and key system attributes in requirements documents has a significant impact on cost and schedule."

Also a recommendation is giving industry the flexibility to provide the government cost-effective and timely designs, by making KSAs "tradable." Industry might be able to say, for instance, that if the Army were willing to accept a design that didn't meet all of its requirements, a design could be produced at a lesser cost or in a more timely manner than if all KSAs had to be met.

"Industry must have flexibility in trading KSAs in order to drive designs to cost-effective proposals that can be achieved on realistic timetables," the Army wrote in its own report. "In developing requests for proposals for future systems, the Army must carefully tailor KSAs that support the acquisition strategy by establishing threshold and objective values for each."

Heidi Shyu, acting assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, spoke specifically about requirements for development of Army systems. She said it's important for the service to develop requirements documents keeping in mind what is possible.

"What we are doing now that's different is looking at the trade space before we say we want this capability," Shyu said. "The Army is absolutely dedicated and committed to an affordable, achievable and realistic approach to acquisition."

Shyu said that when asking for capabilities in a new system, the technology might not be mature enough to support them.

"(When) you are pushing the envelope to achieve the capability you'd like to have with immature technologies, that takes time to develop," she said. "The schedule stretches, and you have an optimistic schedule you can't achieve."

Schedules slips, she said, cost money. "What are the knobs we can turn to dial down our appetite? Understanding that is absolutely tantamount to designing and developing a program that is achievable and affordable and realizable."

The Army is already engaged in practices to overhaul its acquisition programs, Shyu said, adding that the Army welcomes the report's findings

Among efforts already underway is an increase in competitive prototyping prior to acquisition milestone B decisions. This means that competing vendors on a project might provide prototype vehicles for extensive evaluation before the Army downselects to fewer vendors on a contract. This means that any bugs can be worked out before a program moves into production.

Also underway is an increase in the purchase of technical data packages, or TDPs, from defense contractors. The TDP is the body of technical, scientific, research, engineering data and schematics that industry has produced in its development of a product. The Army can purchase the TDP, and with full ownership, can recomplete for production at lower costs.

Shyu also said the Army has been doing "capability portfolio reviews" as a cost cutting measure -- looking at the entire range of what the Army has already and finding redundancies in capability.

Also an effort on the part of the Army: looking to industry for technologies that are already developed, as in "commercial, off-the-shelf" technologies.

"There are things we can leverage from the commercial industry," said Shyu.

Things like computer processors would fall into that category. But something like munitions, for instance, is something she said only the Army has a real interest in developing.

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