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Defense nominee’s record as ‘Buyer in Chief’

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The Defense Department’s Office of the Undersecretary for Acquisitions, Technology and Logistics is better known by a shorter name: Acquisitions.

It is in charge of buying everything from toilet paper to fighter jets, and Defense Secretary nominee Ashton Carter was in charge of it from 2009 to 2011. 

The hallmark of Carter’s two year tenure there was an initiative called “Better Buying Power” to cut down on this wasteful spending, says Bill Greenwalt, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. It was aimed at fighting the perception of waste at the Pentagon.

“If you look at any major weapons system program at the Department of Defense, it’s over budget, not on schedule, and at the end of the day, it performs under what was actually asked for,” he says.

He says maintaining stated budget targets for new and existing weapons systems will be a goal of a Pentagon under Carter. “The next real difficult issue is to invest in the future and to actually drive the innovation,” Greenwalt says.

For decades, NASA and the Pentagon poured money into research and development and dominated the high-tech industry, but since the 1980s the private sector has spent more. That means anyone can buy the technology, including America’s enemies. Bringing Silicon Valley innovation to the Defense Department will also be a priority, says Byron Callan, an analyst with Capital Alpha.

“If you look at what’s going on in autonomous systems for example,” he says, “the money that Google is putting into robotics, autonomous vehicles … Amazon playing around with drones, the Department of Defense is going to have to tap into that expertise.”

Skeptical that a superstar corporation will team up with the Pentagon? Well it’s happened before. During World War II, one of the government’s biggest defense contractors was General Motors.

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