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Don't Supersize! Simplifying Defense Acquisition Reform

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In early 2009, shortly after the latest defense acquisition reform legislation, the Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act WSARA was signed by President Obama, I decided that as a defense acquisition professional, it would be good to study the history of such reform. I had been taunted by the old adage from high school history class -- that those who do not study the past are doomed to repeat it. My research found a great deal of history, with a great deal of it repeated. The pattern was this studies identified problems, panels proposed solutions, the government directed reforms. Two of the first reform studies I read referred to over 200 other studies, panels, and reports. What surprised me was how many of the ideas generated by this excess of think-tanking were implemented. Defense acquisition reform is that rare subject that garners broad bipartisan as well as cross-government support. WSARA, for example, passed both the House and Senate unanimously, despite strong partisanship on virtually every other issue. I wondered Why is defense acquisition reform so uniquely persuasive -- and why do these much-agreed-upon reforms appear not to be working The metrics for our largest weapons systems show a near-unbroken trend of unexpected cost and schedule growth trailing back to 1950, despite more than a dozen attempts to reform the system and eliminate the trend. Perhaps, in our desperation, we failed to understand some fundamental causes and have over-engineered solutions. While many reforms do relieve stress in the system, collectively they add stress and steer the acquisition system down the path that our tax code has taken -- that of extreme complexity. To rebalance, we should ask ourselves Which remedies will have the broadest positive effects but require relatively simple and concise actions How do we nudge rather than pummel ourselves to positive results

Subject Categories:

  • Administration and Management
  • Economics and Cost Analysis
  • Logistics, Military Facilities and Supplies

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