WASHINGTON – Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday that she intends to demand a higher level of accountability from program managers if their acquisition program goes away.
“We as a team are working very closely together to look at functions and individuals in [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] and in the services, the duties they are required to perform, and are determining whether or not we have the right people in the right slots,” Lord said, before saying she did not want to “talk about individuals” in a public forum but would brief the SASC in a future closed hearing if they required more details.
“I will take action if there are issues, no question about it,” Lord told reporters after the hearing. “There are constraints when you come into a government job — you cannot move anybody for 120 days. And if you check on my 120 days, it was just very recently.”
Asked if that meant the department should expect personnel movements related to accountability, Lord stated “I think you should expect to see some movements.”
That attitude should endear Lord to Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who chairs the SASC. McCain routinely rails against what he sees as a lack of accountability for acquisition issues, often asking witnesses at his hearings if they know of anyone who had been fired for famously over-budget programs like the F-35 joint strike fighter of the Army’s WIN-T tactical IT nework.
However, at Thursday’s hearing, McCain seemed skeptical of Lord’s promise to “hold people responsible,” as well as her desire to talk about it in a future closed session as opposed to out in the open.
“Who is it that’s been fired? Any answer?” McCain asked the panel, before answering his own question: “No.”
Lord is currently doing a broader review of the AT&L structure, ahead of the Feb. 1 split of the organization into two new offices, the undersecretaries of Research and Engineering and Acquisition and Sustainment.
Part of that involves pushing authorities down to the services, which James Geurts, the Navy’s assistant secretary of research, development and acquisition, said would help increase accountability.
“It’s harder to hold somebody accountable when they don’t have the authority to actually make those decisions, so pushing that authority down is a key element,” Geurts, who took office three days before the hearing, told senators.
He added that workforce training is also key, because “if we haven’t done the efforts to train them, certify them and make sure they are capable, then it’s hard to hold them accountable. That’s our fault, if we haven’t given them the skills to actually be successful.”
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.