The next secretary of defense, which will reportedly be Pentagon veteran Ashton Carter, should set the right tone with industry and work closely with Congress to improve the acquisition process to avoid any major problems that could distract from efforts to address threats overseas, according to a think tank’s recommendations published Thursday.
“For the secretary of defense, no news is good news when it comes to defense acquisition,” said Andrew Hunter, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said. ”Much like the offensive line on a football team, when things are going smoothly, it goes unnoticed.”
President Barack Obama will reportedly announce Friday that he is nominating Carter to replace the outgoing Chuck Hagel, who announced his resignation last week but is staying on the job until a replacement is ready. The purported selection of Carter appears to have been positively received and any nomination is expected to be cleared by the Senate.
Carter served as deputy secretary of defense from October 2011 until December 2013, a position immediately followed by a two-year stint as the Pentagon’s acquisition chief. He also served in the Pentagon during the Clinton administration.
The new secretary should “meet early with industry and set the right tone. The department depends heavily on industry’s ability to supply advanced technology. There is nothing to lose and much to gain in keeping the lines of communication open,” Hunter wrote.
The next defense secretary will have to deal with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is poised to chair the Senate Armed Services Committee in January following the Republican takeover of the Senate in the Nov. 4 elections, and is known for his hardline stance on problematic acquisition programs.
The Pentagon chief should also “engage with Congress on improving defense acquisition” and work with initiatives that can gain partisan support, he said. The new boss should also embrace Better Buying Power initiatives designed to improve the acquisition process, he added.
Hunter said that given the amount of money involved in defense acquisition, the smallest improvement could yields billions of dollars in savings, a potential even more critical at a time of budget reductions and the possibility of sequestration returning in 2016. He noted there have already been some improvements.
“While this recent progress is encouraging, the squeeze of sequestration and the budget uncertainties generated by continuing resolutions and potential government shutdowns threaten to reverse this trend,” Hunter said. “The result would be a snowballing path of destruction through already tight defense budgets.”