How DoD’s procurement problems are hurting national security

Frank Kendall cringes when he hears the term “acquisition reform.” The Pentagon’s top weapons buyer instead prefers the term “acquisition improvement,” which he says focuses more on the continued refinement of the entire process by which the Defense Department conceives, develops and purchases everything from ships and aircraft to trucks and ammunition.

By almost any measure, the system is broken. Consider this: The Defense Department spent at least $46 billion between 2001 and 2011 on a dozen weapons systems that never even entered production, according to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. The two most expensive programs were run by the Army. The service spent $18 billion on the Future Combat Systems—a collection of networked vehicles and sensors—and nearly $8 billion on the Comanche stealth helicopter. That’s more money wasted in just two programs than the combined annual budgets of NASA and the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Read the entire feature cover story from the special defense edition of Government Executive magazine by clicking here.

OFPP chief looks to procurement workforce, collaboration

Two months into her job as administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, Anne Rung said she’s open to proposals aimed at debunking misunderstandings about what is and is not permitted in agency/industry communications regarding pending and future contracts.

OFPP and the Office of Management and Budget have already begun similar efforts to better explain and facilitate accurate and usable information for government contracting officers through OMB’s Digital Services Team’s release of its TechFAR and Digital Playbook efforts.

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Acquisition workers as critical thinkers: A change that has to happen

The ever-evolving training regime for federal acquisition workers is no longer just about the hard skills of acquisition.

It’s not that knowing the policy, the regulations and the laws isn’t important. No one would argue that. But acquisition workers need to transform by using soft skills now more than ever to lead successful procurements.

This concept is most evident in version 3 of the Defense Department’s Better Buying Power initiative. One of the key tenets of the effort is the need for critical thinking among acquisition workers.

Contracting Specialists 1994-2014This is the idea of contracting officers, program managers and others asking the right questions at the right time. Then, they would take those answers to plan and oversee the contract throughout its entire lifecycle.

“We are trying not to teach people just process, but learn why things happen. Part of that is learning all the stakeholders, their different roles and all the processes they play,” said Jim Woolsey, president of the Defense Acquisition University.

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This story is part of Federal News Radio’s special report, “Missing Pieces of Procurement Reform.”

Understanding acquisition needs key to training workforce, experts say

Better understanding of an agency’s specific acquisition needs leads to better training for the acquisition workforce of the future, according to two acquisition experts.

Melissa Starinsky, chancellor of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs’ Acquisition Academy, and Andrew Hunter, director of the Defense Department’s Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell, spoke to Federal News Radio for the special report, The Missing Pieces of Procurement Reform.

Starinsky said the Acquisition Academy has come a long way since its inception in 2008.

“One of the successes I would say we’re most proud of, that could be replicated or adopted across other agencies, is our Warrior to Workforce program, which is really a way for us to bring our wounded veterans into the field of acquisition, for a career in acquisition.”

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DOD asks leaders to grade RFPs earlier in acquisition cycle

The Defense Department is requiring senior officials to review major acquisitions before the program receives approval to move into the technology development phase, commonly known as Milestone A.

This change is part of the rigor brought into the military from the Better Buying Power (BBP) initiative.

“How do we ensure our investment accounts go as far as they can through addressing affordability? We are doing it through increased emphasis through systems engineering, especially before and around Milestone A,” said Katrina McFarland, the assistant secretary of Defense for acquisition.

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DCMA releases review of Defense procurement functions

The Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) issued a summary of the results of its FY14 review of Defense Department (DoD) procurement functions.  The purpose of DCMA’s annual reviews is to assess the effectiveness of the contracting function, including the identification of best practices and lessons learned.

Shortcomings identified in DCMA’s Program Management Review report include:

  • Insufficient documentation in contract files, contrary to instructions in FAR part 4.801.
  • Over-reliance on checklists and templates, reducing necessary analysis and substance required in particular circumstances.
  • Technical evaluations lacking critical analysis.
  • A propensity to accept proposed prices and an aversion to negotiation.
  • Lack of evidence that Contracting Officers are reviewing the actions and files of Contracting Officer’s Representatives during post-award contract administration.
  • Minimal documentation supporting contract modifications.
  • Misalignment of effective dates with periods of performance, funding dates, and signatures.

A copy of the DCMA’s report can be downloaded by clicking here.

Senate report contributes to discussion about acquisition reform and support for training

Last week, the U.S. Senate published a compendium of expert views on acquisition reform within the Department of Defense (DoD).  While the report contains no recommendations from the Senate itself, the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations points out that the report documents shortcomings in the acquisition process that may serve to guide Congressional deliberations in the future.

The Oct. 2, 2014 report, entitled “Defense Acquisition Reform: Where Do We Go from Here?”, contains the views of 31 government Defense policy and procurement experts.  Significantly,

  • Nearly half of the experts feel that cultural change is required while over two-thirds believe improving incentives for the acquisition workforce is necessary for reform.
  • Two-thirds of the contributors feel that training and recruiting of the acquisition workforce must be improved.
  • Nearly half believe that DOD needs to attain realistic requirements at the start of a major acquisition program that includes budget-informed decisions.
  • More than half of the submissions noted the need for strong accountability and leadership throughout the life-cycle of a weapon system – with several experts stating the need to further integrate the Service Chiefs into the acquisition process.

Seal_of_the_United_States_SenateAbout 70 percent of the report’s contributors express the view that although Congress has taken steps to address deficiencies in DoD’s acquisition workforce, more should be taken. Several contributors state that the Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund (DAWDF), which Congress established in 2008 to ensure that the acquisition workforce has the skills to ensure the DoD receives the best value for taxpayer dollars, should be continued and strengthened.

Former Administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) Dan Gordon, now Associate Dean at George Washington University Law School, states in the report that improvements in training through Defense Acquisition University (DAU) coursework will help the acquisition workforce “buy smarter” in the current budget environment.  Gordon notes that of the three phases of the contracting process — planning, award, and administration — the “weak links in our procurement system [are] poor acquisition planning, especially poor definitions of what the government is trying to buy, and lax contract management.”  These two problematic areas, notes Gordon, “are those least amenable to legislation” and instead tend to rely on the experience, judgment, and training of acquisition professionals.

Gordon calls for “better training for purchasing services, and creation of specialized acquisition cadres, at least in large entities such as the military services, to help run procurements in areas that demand education and experience in the field, such as the acquisition of IT and professional services.”

Many of the report’s contributors believe that DoD should create a clear career path for acquisition professionals similar to the military promotion system and designate acquisition billets to be on the same level as operational billets.  According to those contributors, that may grant more opportunity for promotion, thereby attracting a higher quality workforce.

The report includes input from many current and former officials, including the Pentagon’s Acquisition, Technology and Logistics chief Frank Kendall; former Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman retired Gen. James Cartwright; former acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox; former Chief of Naval Operations retired Adm. Gary Roughead; former Air Force Chief of Staff retired Gen. Norton Schwartz; former F-35 program manager retired Vice Adm. David Venlet; and former President of the Defense Acquisition University Frank Anderson.

The full report is available here: Defense Acquisition Reform – A Compendium of Views – 10.02.2014

IG finds faults in training of contracting officer’s representatives in GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service

A federal certification program, which establishes general training, experience, development and best practices for contracting officer’s representatives, isn’t being applied consistently, potentially leaving them without the necessary skills, abilities and competencies to do their jobs, a recent audit found.

Additionally, the General Services Administration’s inspector general said in the Sept. 29 report that a system designed to oversee the workload and certification status of contracting officer’s representative’s, or CORs, is only accessible to a few managers and supervisors. This means some CORs could possibly conduct unsanctioned work, opening the government up to potential legal problems.

Contracting officers authorize CORs to perform specific technical and administrative duties on contracts or orders. These CORs ensure that federal contractors meet their performance requirements and typically identify if a contractor or program is underperforming.

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Georgia Tech’s Academy supports Federal Acquisition Institute’s new standards for FAC-C program

The Federal Acquisition Institute (FAI) has granted approval for Georgia Tech to teach FAI’s newest course offering, FCN 190 – FAR Fundamentals.  The course is two weeks in length and provides students with a comprehensive review of the Federal Acquisition Regulation.

The FCN 190 – FAR Fundamentals course came about as a result of recent changes to the government’s professional development standards for federal contracting officials.

The May 7, 2014 OMB Memo on the Federal Acquisition Certification in Contracting Program established what’s known as the FAC-C (Refresh) program. The effective date of the FAC-C (Refresh) is October 1, 2014.  Per the May 7, 2014 memo, all civilian agencies must fully implement the FAC-C (Refresh) by October 1, 2015.

Details of the training standards established under the FAC-C (Refresh) program can be seen by clicking here

FAI logoFAI has verified that the FCN 190 – FAR Fundamentals course offered by the Contracting Education Academy at Georgia Tech meets the requirements for delivery of the new FAC-C (Refresh) Level I certification requirements.

By attending the FAR Fundamentals course, students learn the basic policies and procedures for acquisition planning, source selection, and contract administration. Students work through realistic, scenario-based problems by identifying the relevant regulations, guidance, provisions and clauses that govern the federal contracting process.

Georgia Tech’s Contracting Academy received FAI’s permission to teach the FAR Fundamentals course on September 23, 2014.  The Academy is planning to offer the course through on-campus open enrollment in the coming weeks.  The course is also available, on a contract basis, for presentation both on-campus at Georgia Tech and on-site at government facilities.

Strengthening the workforce: DoD acquisition, requirements and results

“Defense acquisition is a human endeavor.”

These are familiar words to anyone who knows Frank Kendall, the Under Secretary for Defense Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, and what he sees as the heart of modernizing the DoD acquisition system.

Kendall and his staff have made notable improvements to the system in recent years, including the major focus on workforce professionalism, training and education initiatives undertaken by the Defense Acquisition University (DAU).

It’s no secret DoD has an abundance of rules and regulations. In a sequestration environment, which will be the greatest administrative challenge of the era for the Pentagon, the workforce and the people are the most important ingredient in the DoD acquisition recipe.

DoD’s Better Buying Power (BBP) mandate establishes “increased professional qualification requirements for all acquisition specialties.” With BBP 3.0 expected in a few months, Kendall reports the new version will work towards eliminating barriers to entry. He wants to build stronger relationships with the requirements, technology, warfighter and other communities. I participated in the recent Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) symposium, the inaugural event to highlight DoD’s BBP acquisition initiative and its application to government, industry and academia.

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