By Mike Stone
(Reuters) - The Pentagon's acquisition chief said on Wednesday she wants to cut the time for major procurements to 12 months from an average of 2.5 years, speaking during a congressional hearing on the reorganization of the Defense Department's procurement system.
The Pentagon typically takes months and often years to make procurement decisions, especially for major weapons programs. A more rapid procurement process could accelerate the pace of orders for weapons makers like Lockheed Martin Corp and Northrop Grumman Corp.
During the hearing of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, panel chairman Senator John McCain called the Pentagon's buying program a "system of organized irresponsibility."
The Pentagon's chief weapons buyer, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Ellen Lord, was asked her goal for cutting back time for weapons procurement and she responded "12 months for major programs."
Lord, who began working at the Pentagon in August, was formerly chief executive of defense contractor Textron Systems, an aerospace and defense company that makes drones and missiles.
If the acquisition process is shortened it would be good for larger weapons makers because time is money, Byron Callan, a defense analyst at Capital Alpha Partners, said in an interview. The move could also increase competition from smaller companies that often lack the financial resources to wait out lengthy Pentagon procurements, he said.
The Pentagon's weapons procurement process generally begins by soliciting proposals from industry, often includes a competitive process to find a vendor, as well as product testing before delivery and final payment. Critics say the decision-making part of the current procurement process takes too long and could be reduced.
Mark Esper, Secretary of the Army, said his office was examining a way to reduce the requirements development process, where the military articulates the concept of what it needs, to 12 months from five years.
The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) changed the structure of the Pentagon's Office of Acquisition by splitting it into two new positions, an undersecretary for research and engineering focusing on innovation, and an undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment focusing on program management.
That process is still unfolding, but during the hearing testimony showed the initial effect was that decision making for some procurement processes had moved to individual branches of the U.S. military.
(Reporting by Mike Stone in Washington; Editing by Frances Kerry)