The Defense Department must better train and empower its acquisition workforce if it hopes to buy and develop critical capabilities more rapidly, the candidate for a key Pentagon leadership position said on Tuesday.
“Acquisition is not something that someone can walk in off the street and do well,” said Alan Shaffer during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Service Committee (SASC), adding, “I want to increase the quality of people, increase the training so we can again get capabilities in the hand of the warfighter.” Shaffer is being considered for the position of Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment.
Young program managers must be allowed to “make a mistake – not a big mistake – but empower them to do everything they can to get capability to the field,” he added.
If confirmed, Shaffer plans to develop strategies that allows the Pentagon to work more easily with industry engineers to speed delivery of key programs, he said.
He will also work with uniformed Pentagon leaders to critically review program requirements and get rid of those that “add no value,” he said. “There are some things that we have to require, but the more requirements you put on the trade space, then constrain the trade space, the harder it is to field.”
The United States has “seen [its] strategic advantage eroded” as near-peer competitor countries including China and Russia have increased their weapons development, and technology in the commercial sector has developed more rapidly, Shaffer noted.
“I think it’s an imperative that we do everything we can, we use all of the various tools that the Congress has given us over the last couple of years to accelerate fielding of capabilities,” Shaffer said. The Defense Department has recently employed new rapid prototyping and procuring authorities to hasten efforts such as finding a new off-the-shelf aircraft to perform light attack and close-air support roles for the Air Force.
Shaffer noted that prototyping efforts must continue, to then “bring about new capabilities very quickly and then figure out how to put those into an acquisition train where you can field a number of them.”
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who serves as the SASC’s ranking member, asked Shaffer during the hearing how he would be involved in the Defense Department’s $10 billion program to procure cloud computing services, called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) program.
Although the Pentagon’s chief information officer is responsible for the contract, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord is ultimately responsible for all procurement, and her office should set standards and performance metrics for such programs, Shaffer noted.
“The concept of a $10 billion contract is something we haven’t tried before. We have to make sure that everything is done in accordance to statute, and we have to have a way to measure how the performance is going…It really is trust but verify, and verify through metrics,” he said.
Shaffer previously served as the director of NATO science and technology at the NATO Collaboration Support Office. He also served at the Pentagon as the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering and as the acting assistant secretary for three years. He served in the Air Force for 27 years.
SASC members also considered the nominations of four additional Pentagon officials: Veronica Daigle, for assistant secretary of defense for readiness; Robert McMahon, for assistant secretary of defense for sustainment; Casey Wardynski, for assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs; and Alex Beehler, for assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment.