Caption: U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall Credit: DOD PHOTO BY GLENN FAWCETT

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon’s acquisition chief is poised to launch a soup-to-nuts review of federal weapons buying laws in an attempt to simplify the complex regulations.

Over the next year, Frank Kendall, U.S. undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, wants to work with congressional oversight committees to craft “more coherent” legislation.

“It’s a maze that a program manager has to work his way through to figure out all the things that apply to him and he has to comply with,” Kendall said of the Pentagon’s acquisition framework, during an April 24 meeting with reporters at the Pentagon. “I think we can simplify things quite a bit.”

Kendall is looking to revise many of the complex laws that have been instituted over the past three decades. While those laws do not necessarily constrain weapons buyers, they are complex.

Among these regulations, Kendall said, are numerous, multilayered certifications and signoffs needed for acquisition decisions.

Kendall made his remarks as he rolled out an updated set of guidelines for weapon buyers designed to get the Pentagon more bang for its buck.

Better Buying Power (BBP) 2.0 builds on efficiency and productivity goals developed in 2010 by Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter when he was acquisition chief.

The new version of BBP focuses more on the acquisition work force, specifically the “judgments that people have to make to do a good job,” streamlining decision-making and increasing professionalism, Kendall said.

The focus on the acquisition work force — particularly education, training and experience — is key, said Jacques Gansler, director of the Center for Public Policy and Private Enterprise at the University of Maryland and a former undersecretary for acquisition. Buying a tank, plane or a service are different, he said.

“You really need people with the ability to make judgments and then you need to trust them with those judgments,” Gansler said.

Kendall said he hopes the new guidance changes the culture from an acquisition system that punishes program managers who do not spend all of the funding for a specific program. Money not spent is returned to the U.S. Treasury, not the program.

There must be incentives for program managers to save money, Gansler said.

“If somebody can return money to the department, or buy additional products in their own program, that’s a good thing,” Kendall said. 

The guidelines also change the focus from fixed-price incentive contracts toward using the appropriate contract for a specific program or phase of a program.

Guidance in the first version of BBP suggested to some contracting officials that they should use fixed-price deals more broadly, Kendall wrote in a memo to the acquisition work force.