After two years of work, the Section 809 Panel gathered in a hall at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce building on a cold, January day to present its third and final report, which summed up some 90 ways to improve the Defense Department's acquisition system.
The commissioners spent the past 24 months interviewing past and current acquisition officials, think tank experts, consultants, industry leaders and organizations--including the National Defense Industrial Association--then talked amongst themselves to come up with some kind of consensus on recommendations.
There have been many similar blue-ribbon panels in the past, all tasked with tackling the slow defense acquisition system. And this commission, like the others, had no authority to change anything.
What's different now is a sense of urgency. The U.S. military feels the breath of China and Russia on its neck as they modernize their weapons and close technology gaps with the United States. Everyone acknowledges the acquisition system is not serving the nation well.
It's up to Congress to take the panel's recommendations and make changes, hopefully ones that will have positive results.
The panel's Chair Dave Drabkin noted that the commission has already made an impact when its first batch of suggestions, that were published in a preliminary report, made it into the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act.
However, Drabkin noted that there are many recommendations that only require program managers and the services to engage in new thinking and "cultural changes."
There were many influential people in the audience interested in what the panel had to say, Drabkin pointed out. They included congressional staff members, office of the secretary of defense personnel, and Will Roper, the Air Force's lead on acquisitions, who raised his hand to ask a question.
What was needed to implement some of the recommendations in the Air Force and where should he start?
Commissioner Darryl Scott, a retired Air Force major general, said it is going to be important that personnel in the lower ranks know that their leaders are behind them when they step up to innovate.
"There is a culture within the Air Force of experimentation, of learning from mistakes, but that culture needs to be ported over into the acquisition system [at large]," he said. "The way you do that is leaders at the general officer level need to stand up and say to the troops, 'We're behind you. Go do it.'"
Commissioner Elliott Branch...