November 06, 2017

In the Pentagon’s AT&L reorg, beware the Valley of Death

Featuring Susanna V. Blume

The U.S. Department of Defense is in the process of reorganizing its acquisition enterprise, as directed by the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. Congress and the DoD intend this reorganization to promote innovation in the department, speeding development of advanced technologies to maintain and extend U.S. technological superiority into the future. The reorganization has a good chance of achieving this goal; however, by divorcing the technology development organization from the acquisition organization, the planned split runs the risk of exacerbating an existing challenge — the difficulty inherent in turning promising, nascent technologies into full-rate production programs delivered to the war fighter.

The reorganization will divide the current undersecretariat for acquisition, technology and logistics, or AT&L, into two new undersecretariats: research and engineering, or R&E, to serve as the chief technology officer; and acquisition and sustainment, or A&S, to serve as the chief acquisition officer.

R&E will set the technology agenda for the DoD, focusing on maintaining and extending U.S. forces’ technological advantage over potential adversaries. A&S will oversee the acquisitions process, focusing on program cost and schedule performance. Crucially, A&S will retain responsibility for logistics policy, enabling the organization to take a holistic view of the cost of a system over its entire life cycle. However, A&S will have a lesser role in direct oversight of acquisitions that AT&L has had in the past, due to the 2016 NDAA’s devolution of significant acquisition authority to the armed services.

Read the full commentary in Defense News.

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