Acquisition reform? Who says?

There is a lot of talk about the next generation of reforms and changes to the regimes of government acquisition policies, practices and culture.

But two stark examples emerged almost simultaneously in recent weeks that highlight just how far we have to go to create a federal acquisition system that is effective, efficient, responsive to the needs of customers, and enables access to the full array of capabilities the private sector can offer.

One example speaks directly to continued cultural challenges and the other to the mindset that drives far too much current policy and practice.

Let’s start with the culture. In a Nov. 7 article in Government Executive magazine, Kimberly McCabe, the CEO of ASI Government and Dan Chenok, the head of the IBM Center for the Business of Government, made a strong, thoughtful, and articulate case for thinking about acquisition in a holistic manner with an eye toward the realities of today and a very different future.

Moreover, their article outlined a new framework designed to describe and help measure organizational acquisition capabilities and maturity. And, perhaps most significantly, recognizing that the pressure for real, sustainable change has to come from within, the framework they outlined was largely the work of a group of federal acquisition and technology practitioners—from rising professionals to senior executives—they had convened.

Keep reading this article at: http://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2014/12/05/insights-soloway-acquisition-reform.aspx

Improving acquisition is part of recommended agenda for next Secretary of Defense

The Center for Strategic and International Studies released a  report last week in which its experts offer up some advice to the next defense secretary.

At the top of the recommended agenda?  Improving Defense Acquisition.

Below is an excerpt from the CSIS report:

“For the Secretary of Defense, no news is good news when it comes to defense acquisition.  Much like the offensive line on a football team, when things are going smoothly, it goes unnoticed. When the Secretary of Defense gets asked about the acquisition system, it usually means something has gone wrong. For this reason, and because acquisition is a highly technical discipline, it can be tempting for the Secretary of Defense to focus attention elsewhere, particularly in his or her early days. Just as the offensive line’s performance is critical to the success of a football team, however, solid performance from the acquisition system is a linchpin to a Secretary’s hopes for a successful tenure.

“Defense acquisition is a massive undertaking involving the expenditure of roughly $150 billion annually for research and development and procurement of technology and total contract spending of more than $300 billion annually. Even a small improvement in performance of the acquisition system can make a difference of billions in the cost of equipping the military.  Despite widespread pessimism on the prospects for improving defense acquisition, the opportunity to make progress is real. The latest issue of the Department of Defense’s annual report on the Performance of the Defense Acquisition System shows modest improvement in trends relating to cost growth. While this recent progress is encouraging, the squeeze of sequestration and the budget uncertainties generated by continuing resolutions and potential government shutdowns threaten to reverse this trend. The result would be a snowballing path of destruction through already tight defense budgets.

“The recent announcement of the Defense Innovation Initiative also demonstrates the strategic importance of acquisition to the Department of Defense. As the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance and the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review make clear, innovation is key to the military’s future. Ultimately, the acquisition system bears the largest share of responsibility for delivering innovation. Last but not least, acquisition will be critical in the Secretary’s relationship with Congress. Senator John McCain will take over as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee in the new Congress, and his interest in, and concern about, the defense acquisition system is well known. On the other side of the Capitol, the House Armed Services Committee has already been examining improvements to defense acquisition for over a year under the leadership of Representative Mac Thornberry, the designated next House Committee Chairman, and his ranking member, Representative Adam Smith.

“There are clear steps for the next Secretary to take. First, meet early with industry and set the right tone. The Department depends heavily on industry’s ability to supply advanced technology. There is nothing to lose and much to gain in keeping the lines of communication open. Second, engage with Congress on improving defense acquisition. The Department spent the last year developing a legislative proposal for improving defense acquisition which can provide a solid basis for bipartisan cooperation. Third, embrace the Defense Innovation Initiative and Better Buying Power 3.0 as major priorities. These initiatives are essential to maintaining the U.S. military’s qualitative edge.”

The full set of CSIS recommendations can be seen at: https://csis.org/publication/recommended-agenda-next-secretary-defense

 

OFPP’s Rung rolls out 3-pronged acquisition improvement plan

Three months into her tenure as Office of Federal Procurement Policy administrator, Anne Rung is now detailing her vision for major changes to the federal acquisition process.

Rung released a memo on Dec. 4, 2014 giving agencies marching orders for how to use data to make better procurement decisions. This road map builds on existing efforts and takes on targeted new initiatives — all with the end goal of creating an improved, data-driven procurement system.

“We have a great opportunity to create a new model for federal contracting to drive greater innovation and performance, and generate savings,” Rung said in an exclusive interview with Federal News Radio. “These actions were shaped, in part, by feedback from our first national online dialogue with industry. The overwhelming feedback from industry and other key stakeholders was that the sheer complexity of the federal marketplace is hindering our ability to deliver the most innovative, high performing and cost-effective solutions.”

Rung’s plans center on three broad concepts:

  • Category management
  • Acquisition workforce talent development
  • Stronger vendor relationships

Each of these focus areas are interrelated as much as they are standalone concepts.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federalnewsradio.com/517/3755979/EXCLUSIVE-OFPPs-Rung-rolls-out-3-pronged-acquisition-improvement-plan

Download and read Anne Rung’s Dec. 4, 2014 memo here: Transforming the Marketplace – OFPP – 12.04.2014

In defense of the FAR

Acquisition reform discussions are again in full swing. Everyone agrees there is room for improvement in contractor-dependent government services and mission. But no consensus exists on what sort of improvement we need. We know that products and service delivery can take too long, don’t always meet intent, and don’t satisfy everyone involved.

Thus, as occurs whenever this topic arises, many will recommend solutions involving changes to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), if not scrapping it altogether. After all, it’s the principal regulation governing management of federal contracting, as well as a guide relied on in many other sectors (e.g., state and local government), so it clearly plays a very important role in the process.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20141111/BLG06/311110014/In-defense-FAR

Charts show what Defense personnel think about the acquisition process

While the mid-term elections have raised uncertainty about government operations under a Republican-controlled Congress, one area where observers expect to see some action is in an overhaul of the way the Pentagon buys weapons. The current system takes far too long and creates enormous uncertainty for both industry and the military services. Too often, programs cost more and take far longer to develop than planned, and by the time new weapons are actually fielded, the technology is outdated.

Confidence in BBP- 11.2014Although there’s a lot of debate about what to do, there’s plenty of bipartisan agreement that something serious needs to be done. For more than a year, Sen. John McCain and Rep. Mac Thornberry have been exploring various reforms with their colleagues. In 2015, the Republicans from Arizona and Texas, respectively, will be in positions to advance some of those ideas.

Early last month, the Senate’s permanent subcommittee on investigations published a compendium of essays by assorted experts on the Defense Department’s system for buying new weapons. The contributors were engineers, bureaucrats, industry executives and political players from both parties. Their views on reform differed, but there was widespread agreement on the need to create more effective incentives for industry as well as the acquisition workforce.

To get a sense of how Defense personnel perceive the problem, we asked Government Business Council, Government Executive’s research arm, to take a poll of our readers. An October poll of 378 Defense Department employees found that few are confident that the acquisition process provides the weapons and equipment the military needs, less than half believe defense industry has the capacity to innovate to ensure U.S.technological superiority, and, perhaps most troubling for military leaders, the vast majority doesn’t think the Pentagon’s premier reform initiative—Better Buying Power—is working.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.defenseone.com/management/2014/11/6-charts-show-what-defense-personnel-really-think-about-acquisition-process/98792

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.

Keep reading this article at: http://fcw.com/articles/2014/11/04/rung-looks-to-workforce-collaboration.aspx

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.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federalnewsradio.com/1332/3721904/Acquisition-workers-as-critical-thinkers-A-change-that-has-to-happen

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.”

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federalnewsradio.com/538/3726666/Understanding-acquisition-needs-key-to-training-workforce-experts-say

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.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federalnewsradio.com/394/3731783/DoD-grades-its-approach-to-RFPs-before-it-gets-to-A