HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – The Air Force’s Director of Budget Investment shared his knowledge and experience during a regional professional development event for the American Society of Military Comptrollers here Nov. 15.
Drawing upon his own experience of more than 30 years working on command and control and other weapon systems and on large and small programs, Carlos Rodgers told the audience that “weapon system acquisition is about as hard as it goes.”
Rodgers said every program will run into problems during its lifecycle, and shared some elements of successful programs, such as realistic costs and manageable risk. However, to deal with the challenges of acquisition, he said we need to learn from each other.
“Acquisition is so difficult to do,” he said. “The best tool is the collective experience that we bring to bear, to share.”
Developing lessons learned was something Rodgers encouraged everyone in the audience to do. He shared his own top ten lessons learned, which he emphasized are not in any priority order:
- Be careful with focus on unit production price curves. “Affordable is important,” he said, “but you have to understand what you’re doing and what the consequences will be to achieve it.”
- There is no substitute for adequate testing.
- Need access and insight into contractor activity. “The contractor could be taking risks and making decisions the government technical people aren’t fully aware of.”
- Need clear definitions for requirements.
- Don’t underestimate the value of benchmarking with other programs.
- Don’t overlook technical readiness levels and manufacturing maturity on cost estimates.
- Quick action is needed when performance issues materialize.
- Don’t overlook the importance of setting a clear baseline - technical, cost and schedule. “You need to work hard to understand each element of the baseline.”
- Get the stakeholders on board early and keep them.
- Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.
Rodgers said that often program offices want to “play poker and hold their cards close,” but he argues that it’s so important to communicate, both across programs and externally.
“It’s your job to get in that saddle and make sure the correct messaging is getting out about your program,” he said.
He highlighted some of that when he provided an update on the Air Force budget and talked about senior leaders publicizing the challenges, including the Budget Control Act.
“This is a significant issue for the Air Force and we’re doing everything we can to help Congress understand what the impacts will be if sequestration doesn’t go away.”
He said the Air Force needs to return to a strategy-driven budget, rather than have the budget drive the strategy.
Highlighting some focus areas for the future, Rodgers mentioned the need for shorter acquisition cycles, saying the junior personnel here will be key.
“This is very hard, and currently it takes too long, but to get ahead of our adversaries, we have to do this,” he said. “To the young people here, it will take your initiative, innovation to do this.”
Strategies to enable rapid incorporation of new technology and legislative proposals to change the legal and policy environment were additional topics Rodgers touched on.
In addition to the Budget Investment director’s presentation, Kathryn Sowers, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Financial Management director, spoke to the attendees about professional development. There were also a number of break-out sessions, ranging from Civilian Development to Earned Value Management, Ethics and Fiscal Law and How to Work with Trainees Successfully.
"The overall event really fortified ASMC's mission to promote education, training and professional development in all aspects of military comptrollership,” said Sarah Flaherty, president of the local Yankee Chapter of ASMC.