Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley has taken up his new role at the center of Army acquisition with relish and will meet weekly with a panel of four-star generals to make sure programs stay on track and address the Army’s needs.

The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), beginning in fiscal year 2017, places milestone decision authority for new-start programs spearheaded by a single service in the hands of that service’s acquisition executive rather than the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley

Lt. Gen. John Murray, who as Army G-8 coordinates the service’s funding, equipping and fielding efforts, said Milley has “embraced” the new authority, but believes it only the first step in a long process of reforming defense acquisition.

“The chief is excited and he has embraced the responsibilities he’s been given in NDAA 16,” Murray said. “He would tell you it’s a great first step for getting after acquisition reform. It is a necessary step, but it is not the only step.”

Milley has long favored transitioning acquisition authority from civilian to uniformed officials. He has repeatedly challenged Congress to grant the authority with the caveat that the powers will be stripped if the services fail in their quest to field capabilities faster and more cost effectively.

“The key part of the legislation last year was it put the chief in the center of the acquisition process,” Murray said. “Requirements, I think, are the first place he’s going to get the biggest bang for the buck and his involvement, validating Army requirements.”

The Army is not challenging the Defense Department civilian acquisition community’s ability to manage programs, but would like the authority to green light or cancel its own programs based on military assessments, said Lt. Gen. Michael Williamson, military deputy to the Army’s chief weapons buyer.

“In many cases you have Army-only programs,” he said. “I’m not talking about joint programs. I’m talking about those things we’re building specifically for soldiers that still have a significant amount of oversight that comes in the form of testing and reviews that we believe…there are a number of programs that we should have the ability, through the Army leadership, to make decisions on.”

Murray was directed to revive the Army Requirements Oversight Council (AROC), a board of general officers that kept watch on Army development programs and which atrophied over the past few years.

Milley has called for weekly AROC meetings, which he has committed to attending, where Army requirements will be generated and validated. The meetings will be attended by the commanders of Army Forces (FORSCOM), Training and Doctrine, Materiel (AMC) and Cyber commands and the chief and vice chief of the Army.  

“The chief of staff of the Army will personally do that unless he physically cannot and then it will be the vice chief of staff of the Army,” Murray said. “Part of it was putting the chief in the center and then [Milley] took that further. He’s putting the soldier in the center represented by those four-star commanders.”

“That is the body that will determine requirements going forward,” Murray added. “That is also the body that will determine trades, once we get into a program, between cost, schedule and performance.”

The AROC will have veto power over milestone C decisions to begin production and the service’s selected acquisition report (SAR).

Murray acknowledged there would be tension among the Joint Staff, service chiefs and civilian acquisition and testing officials working directly for the Secretary of Defense.

“We don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on exactly how to go about defense acquisition reform,” Murray said.

Williamson said the Army was not trying to duck civilian and DoD oversight of its acquisition programs.

“I know there are people that think that I hate testers and that I hate oversight,” Williamson said. “There are reasons why those exist and we are never going to put a system or a capability in a soldier’s hands that we have not done all of the due diligence in terms of making sure that it doesn’t cause harm to a soldier and it’s able to perform the mission for which it was designed and developed.”

“We are asking for an opportunity to demonstrate that we can build and provide capability to our soldiers and that we will do the due diligence required,” he added. “Give us a little runway and let us demonstrate that we will not do bad things.”