Five months after the Defense Department created and filled a new post of "procurement czar" to regain control over the nation's weapons acquisition program, Deputy Secretary William Howard Taft IV has taken over the top responsibilities of the office.
James P. Wade Jr., appointed assistant secretary of defense for acquisition and logistics in July, will retain his title under the Nov. 19 reorganization. But his mandate as the top procurement adviser to Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger was shifted to Taft.
Wade's appointment had been trumpeted by Weinberger as a response to a series of procurement scandals involving cost overruns, inflated prices for spare parts and padding of contracts. Wade sent a "white paper" to Taft Nov. 5 calling the Pentagon's acquisition process ineffective and flawed and urging numerous changes.
The reorganization, codified by Taft in a directive naming himself "defense acquisition executive," was revealed yesterday after a reporter's inquiries.
Defense Department spokesman Fred S. Hoffman said the move was a "management decision" unrelated to Wade's report. He said that Taft, as deputy secretary, in practice has always overseen major procurement programs.
"There's nothing punitive about this," the spokesman said. "It wasn't designed to denigrate Jim Wade or downgrade Jim Wade."
Wade, a career Pentagon official with wide experience in weapons acquisition, could not be reached for comment. After his appointment, he said he would dedicate himself to regaining public confidence in the Defense Department's procurement practices.
A source close to the Pentagon said the move is seen as a "slap" at Wade because his job had been billed as chief procurement manager. Weinberger had persuaded Congress to approve the new post as a reform to control the nation's annual $100 billion weapons-acquisition program.
"It raises the question, who's in charge here?" the source said of last month's reorganization.
Wade's white paper said that while the Defense Department "is not doing as badly as some perceive us to be, there is room for significant improvement." He said the current acquisition system "is not achieving the desired effect of good quality."
A copy of the 42-page report was released yesterday by the Project on Military Procurement, a private group that describes itself as a Pentagon watchdog.
Wade said the Defense Department's process of buying weapons is "ponderous, inflexible and so layered as to make it virtually impossible to maintain accountability." He said the system is impaired by too many officials and by "no close, continuous association" among the researchers, developers, manufacturers and the military services that deploy the weapons.
The process is further hindered by service secretaries who bicker over limited resources, program managers who strive to meet deadlines and financial limits rather than qualitative standards, and by the lack of talented acquisition managers, he said.
Wade recommended, among several reforms, establishing an elite "acquisition corps" modeled after the Foreign Service to manage procurement and requiring contracts to include stringent warranty clauses guaranteeing quality.