WASHINGTON — The US Army chief will take on a much more central role in the service’s acquisition process to include weekly oversight meetings as part of congressionally mandated acquisition reforms, according to the three-star general in charge of funding and equipping the branch.
In its fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress required service chiefs to take on a greater role in acquisition, but it was unclear what that was going to look like.
In the past, the majority of the major acquisition decisions happened at lower leadership levels than at the very top, but the new organization would put the Army chief deep in the acquisition process.
Over the last several months, Lt. Gen. John Murray said, the Army has been talking about bringing requirements drafting, budgeting and acquisition processes together with the Army chief in the middle "to make some key decisions."
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley has embraced the role and has said several times that since he's being given more responsibility when it comes to acquisition decisions that if he fails, he should be fired.
"He is all-in on his role in terms of acquisition reform and where we go in the future," Murray said at the McAleese and Associates and Credit Suisse 2017 defense programs conference in Washington.
But, Murray added: "We don't think this NDAA goes quite far enough to give him the authorities he needs to fully implement and be responsible."
The Army submitted a report to Congress on more acquisition reforms it deems necessary beyond what was crafted in the 2016 NDAA.
The report "reinvigorates" the Army Requirements Oversight Council (AROC).
"Requirements I think is the first place that [Milley] is going to get the biggest bang for the buck. And his greatest involvement you are going to see is validating Army requirements," Murray said.
The AROC has "kind of degraded its stature and importance over the last couple of years," he said. Requirements were being determined at a level much lower than the chief and vice chief of staff.
Now the Army chief and vice chief have committed to weekly AROC sessions. "Those AROCs we will validate and determine what the requirements are for the Army," Murray said. "And the chief of staff of the Army will personally do that unless he can't and then it will be vice chief of staff of the Army."
Additionally, the AROCS will put Army Forces Command, Army Training and Doctrine Command, Army Materiel Command and Cyber Command at the table. "Part of it was putting the chief in the center and the chief took that further, he is putting the soldier in the center, represented by those four-star commanders in determining and validating requirements for the Army," Murray said.
This group will also determine trade-offs when developing a program between cost, schedule and performance; make milestone decisions; and sign Selected Acquisition Reports before sending them off to the Pentagon's acquisition chief Frank Kendall.
The Army report on acquisition reform sent to Congress also asks to de-layer some Office of the Secretary of Defense oversight that "often" leads to "long cycle times for staffing, reviews, and decision-making."
The report also asks for more Army input on the level of testing risk it's willing to accept and to try to reduce "over-testing" on certain programs. The service suggests a change in legislation that would allow the Army to seek waivers for certain testing.
The Pentagon's chief weapons tester, J. Michael Gilmore, pushed back on the proposal earlier this month at a conference in Arlington. Gilmore said the Army's acquisition reform proposal included "stripping my office of its authority to approve test plans, stripping [the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office] authority to do independent cost estimates, not having an independent look at technology relevance levels."
Gilmore highlighted several Army acquisition failures in the past such as the Future Combat System, the Ground Mobile Radio and the Comanche helicopter program as examples of exactly why the Army should not get more authority to determine what is appropriate when it comes to testing and evaluation.
But Army acquisition and budget leaders at the McAleese forum said the criticism of the report was mischaracterized and that the service wasn't trying to opt out of testing and oversight.
"'Opt out' is too strong of a word," Murray said. "What we are saying is basically that not every program needs that type of oversight," he said, adding if the chief is to get more responsibility, he ought to have the authority to make decisions.
"We are just saying, basically, there is probably some areas where you can trust the man with the responsibilities for the acquisition program to make some of the decisions and, like the chief said, if he screws it up, fire him," Murray said.
Lt. Gen. Michael Williamson, the Army's military deputy for the acquisition chief, said the intent of the reforms is, in many cases, for Army-only programs specifically for soldiers where the service's leadership should be able to make decisions, but not without significant oversight that comes from testing and reviews.
"I know there are people that think I hate testers and I hate oversight," Williamson said. "There is a reason why those exist and we are never going to put a system or capability in a soldier's hand that we have not done all the due diligence in terms of making sure that doesn't cause harm to a soldier and its ability to perform the mission for which it was designed and developed."
The report also asks Congress to allow the service to increase the early use of prototyping and experimentation so that it can fail small early rather than fail big late.
Murray noted the Army is already trying out the use of increased rapid prototyping with Army Tank Automotive Research Development (TARDEC) which will likely include development of a Mobile Protected Fire Power capability.
The Army is also looking to develop a Rapid Capabilities Office modeled after what exists within the Air Force and also the Army's Rapid Equipping Force built up over 15 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.