“Ms. Payton, you are right on the edge of getting into the Blues Brothers”

That all-time classic line from a congressional hearing about military acquisition comes from Representative Neil Abercrombie’s 10-minute rant last week on Sue Payton, the US Air Force’s acquisition chief.

I finally got my fingers on a copy of the transcript from this most bizarre hearing.

You can read the entire exchange by clicking on the link. I apologize in advance to anyone who doesn’t like to read obscenities on a blog, but, in my defense, I am simply quoting from the congressional record.

For background, Abercrombie has just found out that the US Army and the US Air Force each have different procurement prices for the Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA). The army’s price tag is $30 million per aircraft and the the USAF’s price tag is $60 million. Abercrombie is not impressed — to say the least — with Payton’s explanation for the disparity.

I’m just excerpting my favorite part here, but read the whole transcript by clicking on the link at the bottom.

Enjoy.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Ms. Payton, you are right on the edge of getting into the Blues Brothers.

MS. PAYTON: Sorry sir, I don’t mean to be there. I –

REP. ABERCROMBIE: That’s when — when Jake says, Bill, but you lied to us about the band. They lied to me when I was in prison about the band. You haven’t kept the band together. He goes, I never lied to you. I bullshitted you a little bit, but I never lied to you.

MS. PAYTON: Sir, I would never give any misinformation –

REP. ABERCROMBIE: No, you are saying that the Army is doing that.

MS. PAYTON: No, sir. I believe that –

REP. ABERCROMBIE: You are trying to finesse us. You are telling me they’ve got a cost that they know about, but they are not telling us about it, and are trying to pretend their unit cost and given information to us is the same as your unit cost, and they know better.

From the beginning:

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Essentially, what I am asking here is, the Army is maintaining, for example, that it can do it for almost half the price of the — it’s version of the aircraft, half price of the Air Force.

I’m asking a money sensitive question.

MS. PAYTON: Yes, sir. And if could reply to that. The Army’s cost number did not include standing up a depot, which the Air Force is going to be doing. It did not include negotiating the data rights from the provider of the aircraft so that we can do our own maintenance in the future. It did not include the cost of simulators and trainers for crew maintenance.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: So you –

MS. PAYTON: Those are all put in another line.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: — unit cost I’m referring to, from the Air Force, is 60.7. And you are saying you are putting that in your unit cost?

MS. PAYTON: Yes, sir.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: And the Army doesn’t have the same definition of the unit cost?

MS. PAYTON: That number –

REP. ABERCROMBIE: But if you are doing things jointly, when the hell are we going to get this done?

MS. PAYTON: Well, I –

REP. ABERCROMBIE: I mean, that’s not an answer that satisfies me very well. You mean, in such elementary opposition to one another that you don’t even agree as to what a unit cost is when you present it to the Congress?

MS. PAYTON: Well, they don’t –

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Am I to — am I to take from your remarks that the Army is trying to deceive us?

MS. PAYTON: No, sir. The Army doesn’t have a depot standup cost because they are going to have their maintenance done by the contractor. That is in a different line for O&M.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: So you are saying the Army is finessing us?

MS. PAYTON: No, sir. I think that the RDT&E and procurement costs that the Army has stated them are accurate. I believe that the O&M costs for the Army — I think those need to be examined.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Ms. Payton, you are right on the edge of getting into the Blues Brothers.

MS. PAYTON: Sorry sir, I don’t mean to be there. I –

REP. ABERCROMBIE: That’s when — when Jake says, Bill, but you lied to us about the band. They lied to me when I was in prison about the band. You haven’t kept the band together. He goes, I never lied to you. I bullshitted you a little bit, but I never lied to you.

MS. PAYTON: Sir, I would never give any misinformation –

REP. ABERCROMBIE: No, you are saying that the Army is doing that.

MS. PAYTON: No, sir. I believe that –

REP. ABERCROMBIE: You are trying to finesse us. You are telling me they’ve got a cost that they know about, but they are not telling us about it, and are trying to pretend their unit cost and given information to us is the same as your unit cost, and they know better.

MS. PAYTON: Well, sir, we’d have to get with the Army, and that — we are doing a business case analysis study, not a requirement study, on how to do training better together, how to do sustainment better together.

I didn’t want to leave the impression the requirements have changed in anyway.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Well, there’s a hell of a big difference — $30 million difference.

MS. PAYTON: One of the additional things that we are doing is we are paying for all the joint live fire testing, we are paying for, as I said earlier, the tech manuals, training systems –

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Okay. So I have to go back now, and I’ve got to have my staff then to start making comparisons to make sure the Army isn’t telling one thing, and the Air Force telling us something else, and we have to try and figure out what it is that puts apples to apples?

MS. PAYTON: No, sir, we would be glad to come together, and –

REP. ABERCROMBIE: But that’s what the joint thing is all about. How can you — I don’t understand why, if this is a joint operation, are you — do you have two different sets of category. You apparently know that there are. You are telling them to me in detail right now.

Why — will your equivalent, in the Army or in the Air Force, why aren’t they operating off the same page when it comes to determining when it comes to determining unit costs?

MS. PAYTON: Sir, I will take that action for the record, and I will return.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Is that a reasonable question?

MS. PAYTON: Absolutely.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Do you dispute that the unit costs are stated differently?

MS. PAYTON: No, sir, I believe the unit costs are correct. I will tell you that on the 25th, JCA from the Air Force, our unit costs will start going down, because that investment that we’ve made upfront, now each unit that we build after the 24th will be factored in, so the price per tail will decrease.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: But if you know that your criteria for the unit cost is different from the Army, why hasn’t this been reconciled?

MS. PAYTON: Sir, I have to take that question for the record.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: I don’t understand. Why should you have to take it for the record?

MS. PAYTON: Because I need to get with my counterparts and understand in detail how they calculated the APOC for this program. And you know, we do have –

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Why hasn’t it been done already?

MS. PAYTON: Because we — I’ll have to take that for the record. I apologize.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: You don’t have to apologize. This seems to me elemental. The whole basis of the questioning that’s going on here, and the whole basis of the idea of jointness is that there is, at least, common — a common understanding of what it is that is being determined and given to the committees.

Now you obviously already know this difference. This is not news to you. You have it in detail. Knowing the difference, how come it hasn’t been reconciled in terms of what is presented to the committee?

MS. PAYTON: Well –

REP. ABERCROMBIE: I’ve got the Army telling me one set of things. You know, I feel like I’m being jerked around here. I’m on the edge of having to make recommendations to the membership here, and I’m dealing with different numbers, different unit cost.

Well, you are saying there’s different criteria, but you know — you know that there is different unit costs.

MS. PAYTON: Again, we are taking a different approach on the acquisition sustainment.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Why? How can we make a decision if you are taking a different acquisition process from the Army, and yet it’s being presented to us as if it’s reconciled? I mean, as if you are all operating from the same page.

That’s why I asked the question. I’m thinking, how the hell can the Army come in with a unit cost significantly less here. Why is it tens of millions of dollars less?

MS. PAYTON: I will get more detail for you on that, but I know they are building more. So as you — the more that you build, relative to APOC numbers, the lower that price per aircraft is. I will tell you that we do have to invest in the data rights, because we are doing our own maintenance.

We have a 50-50 law that we must abide by because we have logistic centers.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: And the Army doesn’t.

MS. PAYTON: No, sir, not –

REP. ABERCROMBIE: I know that.

MS. PAYTON: They do not do their own logistics on air planes. You see, they –

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Let me ask this — let me ask this then. Then why are we even bothering with the Army. Why don’t I just dismiss it entirely — then it doesn’t have anything to do with this version of the joint cargo aircraft, then we are operating as separate universes.

Why are we even talking about it being joint then? Why don’t they just do what you tell them to do?

MS. PAYTON: I think that’s probably above my grade level sir. I am trying to do the best I can in bringing jointness into something that was sort of born separately and pulled –

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Okay. I’m sorry Phil, but you know, it’s very difficult — it’s very difficult to understand then, if all of these things are in fact the case, and you are just telling me right now, why wouldn’t that information have been given to the Army so that they could make a decision as to whether or not they should just simply join in your program.

It’s joint. What the hell. What difference does it make?

MS. PAYTON: Yes, sir. The decision was made — this would be an Army-led program, and we are working through this — the best I can.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: And so the Army thought that they could lead in this program and not have anything to do with depots, and they didn’t understand that, and it never occurred to them, even though they have depots for MRAPs and everything else — that the Army has to deal with it. They wouldn’t need to have a depot factor involved in a cargo aircraft? It didn’t occur to them?

MS. PAYTON: Sir, those are questions for the Army. And as I say, we have people supporting that program in Huntsville.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: You know, you are saying these are questions for the Army. You are saying that I need to ask the Army.

MS. PAYTON: No, sir. I’m suggesting that we come back together, and answer any and all questions that you have relative to this.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Isn’t it a little late — and again to be getting together with the Army?

MS. PAYTON: No, sir. We’ve been together with them. We were on the source selection with them. We’ve had our people involved.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: That’s my point — source selection.

Didn’t elemental stuff like this come up during the source selection?

MS. PAYTON: Yes, sir, the acquisition strategy that was approved by OSD at our request was that there would be some differences in the approach here, but we would manage the program together, and we would do the business case analysis to determine how we would move forward.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Do you think it’s been managed very well together at this stage?

MS. PAYTON: Sir, from what I can tell from talking to our –

REP. ABERCROMBIE: From what you can tell from the last 10 minutes do you think it’s well managed together.

MS. PAYTON: I think there are some differences that we need to be able to articulate better to you.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Okay. Thank you.

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