GAO: Agencies not taking advantage of market research on lower dollar contracts

Federal agencies are taking advantage of market research for big dollar procurements, but are missing those opportunities for smaller contracts, an Oct. 9, 2014 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report says.

All 28 contracts GAO reviewed included some evidence of the market research conducted. The contracts GAO reviewed were pulled from the Defense Department, Homeland Security Department, Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Department.

The market research conducted on the 12 higher dollar contracts GAO reviewed tended to be more robust and include more techniques that involved outreach to vendors, such as issuing requests for information to industry. That helped promote competition, the report says.

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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

DoD selects Tech as one of 12 contract award winners

he Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) is one of 12 companies awarded access to the new Defense Systems Technical Area Tasks (DS TATs) contract vehicle.

Having established its reputation as a world leader in sensors, radar and electronic systems, information management and security, and robotics, GTRI leveraged its position within the Georgia Institute of Technology and its collaboration with other academic institutions to win the contract. The contract was awarded by the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC), a part of the Department of Defense (DoD).

“Contract vehicles are very important for military contractors in general and GTRI in particular,” said Rod Beard, GTRI researcher and director of the DS TATs. “We could have the greatest ideas in the world for a government office, but if we don’t have a way for them to reach us through a contract vehicle, it could be too time-consuming for the complete procurement process.”

GTRI leadership made the decision to pursue DS TATs in 2011, realizing that the Sensing Information Analysis Center (SENSIAC) vehicle would expire in 2014. DTIC’s prior responsibility for SENSIAC under its mandate was to provide science and technical information to U.S. government customers. Because of GTRI’s and Georgia Tech’s specialty in sensors and radar, SENSIAC was located in and managed by GTRI. Researchers and scientists managed these basic core operations of SENSIAC.

DTIC divided the 10 existing information analysis centers — grouping subject matter based on research similarities — into three. The technical area tasks (TATs) or contract vehicles were separated among the new branches. Now, the DS-TATs scope is the same as that of the Defense Systems Information Analysis Center. The other two are the Cyber Security and Information Analysis Center (CSIAC) and the Homeland Defense & Security Information Analysis Center (HDIAC).

DTIC, which reports to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (ASDRE), established DS TATs in June 2014. The vehicle has a $3 billion ceiling and is established as a 5-year, indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ), multiple-award contract for research and analysis services.

According to Beard, it should take about six or seven months to begin procuring contract awards through the vehicle. He currently is in the process of informing GTRI’s researchers of the new vehicle, and then will meet with customers who funded GTRI through SENSIAC, informing them of the new process with DS TATs.

Contractors awarded use of this vehicle will compete to perform various customer-funded task orders (TATs) for studies and complex analyses, as well as engineering and technical services that generate scientific and technical information within the Defense Systems scope areas.

Focus areas for this contract vehicle include the following:

  • survivability/vulnerability
  • reliability, maintainability, quality, supportability and interoperability
  • military sensing
  • advanced materials
  • weapon systems
  • energetics
  • autonomous systems
  • directed energy
  • non-lethal weapons and information operations

Through its relationship to Georgia Tech and collaboration with academic partners from across the nation, GTRI will be able to not only utilize its specialties—sensors, autonomous systems, sustainability of legacy aircraft and research on protecting our warfighters — but also allow the consortium of academic partners to demonstrate their strengths.

Collaborators include the University of Southern California, California Technical Institute, New Mexico Tech, Utah State University, Purdue University, University of Illinois, University of Michigan, Notre Dame, Pennsylvania State University, Vanderbilt University, University of North Carolina Charlotte and Florida International University. In addition, GTRI recruited several industry and small business partners, as 9 percent of the work done in the first year must be designated to small businesses.

“In addition to providing access to a contract vehicle, the partnerships will give us an opportunity to diversify,” Beard said. “To assist with this, we have secured several academic partners, which will open the door to projects that neither GTRI nor some of our partners would have contemplated before.”

For example, GTRI conducts legacy aircraft sustainment. “We take legacy technology in military aircraft, and update the avionic systems with current generation processors and memory to enable replacement of this out-of-date equipment,” Beard said. “Purdue is prominent in the automotive industry, which is something we don’t do. We could possibly move into tank and truck sustainment through our partnerships.”

A few of these institutions already were partners through SENSIAC, Beard said. Utah State’s Space Dynamic Lab, for example, can simulate the environment of space, which aids in the testing of sensors and other items bound for the skies.

“I’m pleased that we have been awarded this opportunity,” said Robert T. McGrath, senior vice president of the Georgia Institute of Technology and director of GTRI. “I am confident that the comprehensive capabilities represented across the impressive team assembled will very ably serve the future needs of our Department of Defense sponsors.”

The multiple-award contracts were competitively procured by full and open competition along with a partial small business set-aside via the Federal Business Opportunities website. The Air Force Installation Contracting Agency, Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, is the contracting agency.

DoD will empower military branches to directly procure cloud services

The Defense Department is changing its approach to procuring cloud services, moving away from a two-year-old policy designating the Defense Information Systems Agency as the department’s de facto cloud broker.

In a new memo expected to be released by the end of October, the department’s new policies will grant cloud-buying power to the military services, according to officials. The new guidelines direct military officials to provide the DoD CIO office with detailed business case analyses for cloud decisions, while also complying with acquisition requirements and evolving cybersecurity mandates.

The forthcoming memo will replace the 2012 cloud strategy released by then-DoD CIO Teri Takai.

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Hagel’s right-hand man on acquisition reform

Hagel needed to accompany President Barack Obama to Tampa, Florida, for a briefing at U.S. Central Command about the now-underway airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria. Hagel needed a trusted confidant to fill in for him at the Air Force Association conference in Maryland, so he turned to Frank Kendall, the Defense Department’s undersecretary for acquisition.

Hagel’s choice in Kendall to deliver the remarks he had already penned is the latest in a series of actions that demonstrates the close relationship two have developed over the past year, defense officials close to both men say.

Moreover, the relationship has helped elevate Kendall’s acquisition reform – or as he prefers to say, “acquisition improvement” – initiatives, the latest of which was unveiled last week.

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DoD to gather feedback on new military tech acquisition guidance

The Pentagon’s top weapons buyer formally released a draft of his proposed new guidance for acquisition reform last week, calling for a renewed focus on research and innovation to maintain the increasingly tenuous lead that the US holds in military technology over its adversaries.

Administration officials — including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel — have been telegraphing elements of the strategy for weeks, even though the final plan won’t be finished for months.

Speaking with a handful of reporters at the Pentagon on Sept. 16, the man leading the charge — Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics —said that the white paper he released on Friday is only the first full public airing of the proposed strategy.

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Pentagon’s sole-source contracts continue to dwindle, says GAO

The Defense Department is doing its part to curb the number of sole-source contracts awarded without competition and is properly justifying—in most instances—their use to help develop small, disadvantaged businesses, an audit found.

The Government Accountability Office’s Sept. 9 report to the House and Senate Armed Services committees evaluated sole-source contracts worth more than $20 million under the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program and found that the Pentagon in fiscal 2013 continued a “significant decrease” in such contracts. It awarded five in 2013, each worth $20 million, compared with 27 contracts valued at $2 billion in 2009.

All five of the recent contracts were justified as being “in the best interest of the government,” though three of them failed to fully meet Federal Acquisition Regulation requirements that relevant officials sign off on them in a timely manner.

Fifty-five sole-source contracts were awarded under the 8(a) program over the past four years, the report found, led by the Army with 37, the Navy with 13, the Air Force with two, and three elsewhere in the department.

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‘Change in direction’ for Better Buying Power 3.0, says AT&L chief

Defense Department officials are preparing to roll out a third iteration of its Better Buying Power initiative aimed at reforming defense acquisition, and the new version will focus on products, innovation and engineering.

Better Buying Power (BBP) 3.0 is expected to be introduced in the coming weeks–possibly as soon as Sept. 12—according to Frank Kendall, deputy Defense secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, who spoke Sept. 4 at an industry event in Newport, Rhode Island.

The first BBP focused on rules and business practices, and the second emphasized critical thinking and the acquisition workforce. Kendall said that the latest version is “a change in emphasis – it’s not a fundamental change in direction.”

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Pentagon considers spliting Air Force One contract to gain more competition

The U.S. Air Force will decide by December whether Boeing will have to share a multibillion-dollar project to provide the next Air Force One jetliner for the president, the service said.

The Air Force has budgeted $1.6 billion for research through 2019 and is “working toward release” of a request for proposals early next year with a schedule to purchase the first aircraft in fiscal 2016, according to spokesman Charles Gulick.

The military hasn’t ruled out buying 747-8 passenger planes from Chicago-based Boeing and then using other contractors to outfit them for the special needs of the presidential fleet. Airbus Group NV, the European aircraft company, said last year that it wouldn’t challenge Boeing to build the plane.

“The Air Force does not yet have an approved acquisition strategy,” and intends to present one “in fall 2014” for review by the Pentagon’s Defense Acquisition Board, Gulick said in an e-mailed statement.

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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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