Panel Pressures Pentagon Acquisition Chief To Expand Work Force

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WASHINGTON — Despite budget cuts, the U.S. Defense Department and military services will fulfill their goals to hire more acquisition staff using a special development fund, the department’s acquisition chief said the week of March 27.

Ashton Carter, undersecretary of Defense (DoD) for acquisition, technology and logistics, assured the Commission on Wartime Contracting that being “ready to contract” is an essential part of the department’s mission.

“We’re simply not going to go to war without contractors,” he said.

Commissioner Katherine Schinasi questioned the military’s commitment to pick up the tab after money stops going into the Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund in 2016. The department is using that fund to add 10,000 new acquisition positions. Schinasi said military departments should set aside money by 2013 to sustain the additional workers.

Schinasi said in an email after the hearing that recent comments from defense officials about slowing efforts to insource jobs held by contractors and hiring freezes have made the military’s commitment appear shaky. The department initially planned to insource another 10,000 contracted acquisition workers by 2015.

“Traditionally, the military departments have resourced acquisition as an afterthought, [as] an administrative and not very important function,” she said.

Carter told the commission, which was created by Congress, that the department’s cost-saving and efficiency plan announced last year requires a competent and properly sized staff to execute it.

“And we’re short of good people,” he said.

Members of the commission are eager to see more government oversight of combat-support contracts and have criticized the department for increasing its contract spending without also ramping up its work force.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department is pressing Congress to approve a reprogramming of funds so it may increase its acquisition work force by 20,000 in the next four years.

Carter said the current budget system is designed “to prepare for war, not to wage war.”

“We have to create a fast lane for contingency acquisitions so that requirements are done not in the ponderous usual way, but quickly, so we can do acquisition quickly,” he said. “So, we’re constantly hot-wiring, working around [the current budget system]. That is not satisfactory. We need a better system.”