Since the position of Undersecretary for Acquisition (to which was added Technology and Logistics to make it AT&L) was created some 25 years ago, ten individuals have served in this extremely important role. They have all been knowledgeable, experienced, thoughtful people. The current nominee, Mr. Frank Kendall, is no exception. A former military officer, Mr. Kendall had experience both in the Pentagon and the private defense sector. For almost two years, until designated the acting AT&L when his boss, Dr. Ashton Carter, was moved up to be Deputy Secretary of Defense, Mr. Kendall served as the number two in AT&L. It would be hard to pick someone with a better resume for the job.
It would be enough if Mr. Kendall’s saw his job as limited to managing the Pentagon’s efforts to develop, procure, maintain and sustain the vast array of capabilities and services the military requires. After all, there is still a war on. In addition, the military needs to recapitalize after a decade of conflicts. Moreover, the Department of Defense (DoD) is slated to absorb nearly half a trillion dollars in budget cuts over the next decade.
But Mr. Kendall is one of those rare public servants who wishes to contribute something of enduring value to his nation. To that end, he has taken on the mission of attempting to change the acquisition culture. As he explained it recently, this involves much more than merely writing new rules and regulations. It requires a high degree of expertise and professionalism in the government’s acquisition workforce. It necessitates dealing with the requirements generation process so that the military does not ask for capabilities that science and industry simply cannot produce. It means changing the way proposals are written as well as how the defense industry responds to them. Most of all it requires that the entire system focus on value for money.
Mr. Kendall is to be commended both for stating publically what is rarely acknowledged: that the efforts to reform the acquisition process by changing structures, policies and procedures are doomed to failure. Only by changing the acquisition culture can real progress be achieved. This is an effort that will take many years. Lesser individuals might see the attempt as futile. Bravo to Frank Kendall for having the guts to start the process of change.
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