Kendall: Stop expecting the Hill to fix acquisition process

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In trying to reform or regulate acquisition processes, Congress normally does more harm than good, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official said Tuesday.

In his last public address before he leaves the government, Frank Kendall said “acquisition improvements are going to have to come from within.”

“It is not going to be engineered by Hill staffers writing laws for us,” the undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in a speech marking the release of his new book, “Getting Defense Acquisition Right.”

Any overhaul of the rules “is going to be done by people in the trenches every day, dealing with industry, trying to get the incentives right, trying to get the performance right, trying to set up business deals and enforce them, set reasonable requirements in our contracts, do all of the hundreds of things that are necessary to get good results,” Kendall said. “That’s where we’re going to improve.”

Discussing the Pentagon’s relationship with Capitol Hill on acquisition in general, not just technology, Kendall said the Hill has “a very imperfect tool to try to improve acquisition results.” He said that tool is a “blunt instrument” that can create organizational structures or set firm requirements.

“It is not a good instrument to achieve the result that I think the Hill is after, but they keep trying,” he said. “What it does do almost inevitably is create more bureaucracy, and create more regulation.”

Kendall stressed that, over time, it would be “a great thing to do” to eliminate those regulatory burdens instead of adding to them. But he did say Congress is effective on making it easier for the Pentagon to hire and retain qualified folks.

Another thing hampering the Pentagon’s effectiveness was budget sequestration, Kendall said, adding, as he has in the past, that he doesn’t think the department has a lack of innovation, but resources. But looking toward the imminent change in power, Kendall said he anticipates more money flowing into the department.

“I don’t think that would be a bad thing, frankly,” he said.

[Read more: Trump will put pressure on defense contractors, not Pentagon’s bottom line, analysts say]

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Acquisition, Capitol Hill, Frank Kendall, presidential transition
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