SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — Less than a day after the House voted overwhelmingly on a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that eliminates his job, Frank Kendall — now potentially the last undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics (AT&L) — is relatively calm about the change.
"Oh, that part. Everybody fixates on that. I'm less worried about that than I am other things," Kendall said Saturday after an appearance at the Reagan National Defense Forum, held outside of Los Angeles, California.
That would seem confusing to those who have seen Kendall warning, over the last year, about the damage eliminating the AT&L office could have. But at the end of the day, a change made in conference to the NDAA apparently put many of Kendall's fears to rest.
The original reform language, put forth from the Senate Armed Services Committee in May, would have split AT&L into two offices: a new undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, or USD(R&E), and the renamed undersecretary of management and support, or USD(M&S). However, the final language somewhat tweaks that, instead creating an undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment (AT&S), and a new undersecretary for research and engineering (R&E), essentially a chief technology officer.
That means that Kendall’s biggest concern — keeping life cycle management under the control of one office — was alleviated.
"The fundamental concern I had was the three major phases of a life cycle — development, production and sustainment — stay under the same leadership. The research and engineering job is defined to be the basic science and technology, the laboratory system and some of the experimental prototyping. I’m fine with that," Kendall said.
His bigger concerns with the NDAA, instead, are focused on what he and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter have called "micromanagement."
"I just think that we haven't analyzed it fully yet, but all the new requirements — things like the secretary or the deputy secretary having to do some kind of a certification on program costs ... are we going to have to go brief the secretary or deputy?" Kendall said. "There's things like the constraint on non-fixed price contracting above $50 million, initially $25 million, going to the service acquisition executives.
"We do hundreds of those every year and that's a burden that we just shifted way up the chain of command to people who have a lot of other important things to do. There are things like that that bother me more."
Kendall laughed when asked if he would stay on for the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump, saying: "I haven't been asked and I don't expect that I will be. I don't want to answer a hypothetical because no one's asked me so I'll leave it at that. I think quite frankly it's unlikely to happen."
But after that first response, Kendall acknowledged that "I'm in a better position than anybody else" to oversee the redesign.
"I think I know how to do it and I think I know how to do it in a way that kind of optimizes the result," Kendall said. "I've worked with this organization for seven years now basically, and I made a lot of changes early on the first couple of years that I was in place and I haven't made any since then. ... I've got it kind of where I think it works well, but I could adjust from that to what the law requires I think relatively quickly and effectively."
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.