Acquisition Nominee Lord Cruises Through Confirmation Hearing

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By Andrew Clevenger

Ellen Lord, the Trump administration’s nominee to head the Pentagon’s Office of Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, avoided controversy during her July 18 confirmation hearing, paving the way for a likely smooth confirmation process.

The former Textron Systems CEO is ready to work with the Senate Armed Services Committee to implement the organizational changes mandated by the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, she told the panel.

“If confirmed, I will drive innovation to regain our nation’s technological edge while focusing on affordability and accountability,” Lord said. “I will work to streamline the acquisition and sustainment processes while reinvigorating research and engineering innovation, utilizing the authorities provided in the 2016 and 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.”

In the 2017 NDAA, Congress split the AT&L chief job into two new undersecretary positions, one in charge of research and engineering, and the other of acquisition and sustainment, as of February 2018. While Lord is up for the AT&L undersecretary position as it exists, the White House indicated she would move to the A&S position after the reorganization is implemented.

Acknowledging Tensions

Lord expressed support for the reorganization in written and oral responses to SASC questions, and pledged to work with Congress and the Office of the Secretary of Defense to help oversee a smooth transition to the new management structure.

Congress, including SASC Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), his counterpart on the House Armed Services Committee, often voiced frustration during the latter part of the Obama administration, with what it said was the Pentagon’s resistance to efforts to achieve better acquisition outcomes.

Lord’s written submissions acknowledged the ongoing tensions: “My understanding is that relations between AT&L and the committee could be improved.”

Taking Full Advantage

She also indicated support for several initiatives instituted by the previous administration, including Better Buying Power, the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx), and the Strategic Capabilities Office, which seeks to repurpose existing technologies for war fighting.

“Better Buying Power focused on cost-consciousness, professionalism, and technical excellence,” Lord said. “Those are things we look at in industry, as well. I think this is something that we can build on.”

Often, an on-time 80 percent solution is more effective than an elegant solution that is delayed, she said. Adding continuity to the acquisition workforce can improve results in terms of cost and schedule, she said, noting that the Pentagon also needs to get better at incorporating commercial technology into its efforts.

“It’s incredibly important to have cross-functional teams at the beginning of these programs, and make sure you take full advantage of what industry has to offer, whether that be the commercial sector or the defense industry,” Lord said.

The Pentagon has in place authorities to accomplish this, but they aren’t always implemented, she said.

“We have a lot of authorities, a lot of ability to do things today that frankly just aren’t being utilized,” Lord said. “I think right now, if confirmed, what I would do is make much better use of all of the different offices and capability. We don’t need the traditional, long requirements process for many capabilities the war fighter needs.”

None of the senators raised the issue of how Lord would address potential conflicts of interest with her former employer, defense contractor Textron Systems. McCain previously warned the Trump administration that he wouldn’t look favorably on additional nominations for top Pentagon slots coming from the five biggest defense contractors, which doesn’t include Textron Systems.

McCain’s complaints notwithstanding, the full Senate confirmed Boeing Co. executive Patrick Shanahan to be deputy secretary of defense on July 17 by a 92-7 margin.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Clevenger in Washington at aclevenger@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Daniel Ennis at dennis@bna.com

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