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Army Wants Out From Under OSD Oversight

Posted by Colin Clark on

Army photo

Gen. Mark Milley speaks at New America

WASHINGTON: In a move likely to elicit strong Congressional reaction, the Army is asking for the right to develop and build weapons without detailed oversight from the Office of Secretary of Defense, including the congressionally-mandated Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E).

The Army, which led the push for greater and more independent acquisition authority, is the first service to say it wants to build weapons without DOTE, Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE), and other OSD overseers working for the under secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics staring over their shoulder and requiring lots of reports, data, and testing.

I asked Army Lt. Gen, Michael Williamson, the principal military deputy for Army acquisition, if the Army really wanted to build weapons without OSD oversight, as a new report to Congress (below) by Chief of Staff Gen, Mark Milley appears to argue. Speaking at the annual McAleese Defense conference, Williamson said the service deserves the “opportunity to show we can build and provide capability on our own.” Insisting he doesn’t hate testers, Williamson promised that the service would never “put a system or a capability in a soldiers hand that we have not done all the due diligence to make sure it doesn’t cause harm to a soldier and that it can do the mission for which it has been developed.”

Gen. Milley himself said this morning that “the best methods of management are to empower and decentralize. I think that I should be able to look at someone and say, here’s your task. Here’s why you’re doing it. Here’s the purpose. Here’s the end state I want you to achieve by such and such a time. Go forth and have at it.” But what if they fail, as the Army has so often over the last 20 years? “If you succeed you’re promoted and I give you a medal. If you fail you’re fired,” Milley told Sydney this morning at New America’s Future of War conference. “You hold people accountable.”

That’s exactly why Congress approved the major shift of power from OSD to the services in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act, to speed things up and to try and ensure more direct accountability, as Breaking D readers know.

The rub will come when the Army tries to test a major new system on its own. Will Congress and the Office of Operational Test and Evaluation let this occur without opposition?

“That is the question isn’t it?” a congressional aide says in an email. “How seriously does Congress want to align authority, accountability and responsibility or leave it diffuse? That is definitely an issue for the members to consider and the Army is encouraging a timely debate on what should be the role of the executor and what should be the role of an overseer.”

Another congressional staffer took a more adamant stance in an email response to Sydney. “Yeah — not impressed.  For the Army, of all the services, to ask for relief from all OSD-level oversight is pretty audacious. Not the greatest track record over the last 10-15 years. I doubt the proposal will go very far, but who knows,” the aide writes. Noting that the Navy and Marines, also required by law to report to Congress on acquisition, “don’t ask for any changes at all,” the aide added. “[The] Army wants to go back to 1975.

Milley pointed to the Army’s new pistol as proof of how the system fails the service.

“The famous one that’s recent is the pistol. That’s a relatively simple technology. It’s been around for I guess five centuries or so, and we’re not exactly redesigning how to go to the moon, right?….Arguably it’s the least lethal and important weapons system in the Department of Defense inventory. A pistol!” Milley said. “This thing’s been out there for nine years, 10 years, [with a] 367-page requirements document. Why? A lawyer says this, a lawyer says that, you have to go through this process and that process.”

“I took a briefing the other day: the testing for this pistol is two years — two years to test technology that we know exists,” Milley said. “We’re not figuring out the next lunar landing. This is a  pistol!… at $17 million dollars.”

Miller offered a characteristically bold solution that was met with appreciative laughter: “I’ll call Cabelas tonight and will outfit every soldier, sailor, airmen and Marine with a pistol — and I’ll get a discount for a bulk buy.”

Milley argued that eliminating mandatory involvement of certain OSD offices did not equate to eliminating OSD oversight. “The secretary of defense and the chain of command always have oversight, just like I always have oversight [in the Army],” he said. “If you’re the superior headquarters, the way the military works, you always have oversight and you can never give up that oversight.”

“We’re not going to opt out completely,” said the Army’s deputy chief of staff for resources (G-8), Lt. Gen. John Murray, at the McAleese conference. “[But] not every program needs that type of oversight… If you’re going to give the chief the responsibility,he ought to have the authorities to make those decisions.”

“We can delay some of the testing, and some of the analysis of alternatives, and some of the cost [estimation], because the capabilities exist in the Army,” Murray continued. “Not every requirement needs to go to the JCIDS,” the inter-service Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System.

It’s the DOTE oversight that will prove the greatest rub because it is a congressionally-created office formed because lawmakers didn’t think the military did a good enough job at testing.

For his part, Williamson knows this will be challenging. When I asked if he thought Congress and OSD would let this happen, he admitted there would be “healthy tension, especially with OTE” as all this is hammered out.

What do you think?