Procurement troubles still dog Defense Department

Congress has held hearings over the past 30 years seeking ways to fix the Defense Department’s poor procurement system.

A June 24th hearing offered interesting ideas.

No headlines afterward about stopping F-35 costs from skyrocketing, keeping new production of nuclear aircraft carriers on schedule or halting the failure of billion-dollar computer programs — in fact, there was hardly any press coverage at all.

Two worthwhile ideas that came from the four experienced procurement specialists who appeared before the House Armed Services Committee provided no silver bullets, but they made sense.

  1. Give the main contracting officer for major weapons projects absolute cradle-to-grave authority and responsibility and accountability.
  2. Interservice rivalry and even intraservice competition have far from ended, and they harm the procurement system.

 

Former DoD official argues for more commercial technology

Global defense companies need to import and adapt more commercial technology into military weapons and systems of the future, a former US deputy defense secretary turned industry CEO said Wednesday.

The Pentagon is more often using these types of technologies, such as 3-D printing and IT systems, allowing troops to use smartphones to view real-time reconnaissance information.

“The model was to develop things internally and then put them out [commercially],” said Bill Lynn, CEO of Finmeccanica North America and a former deputy defense secretary under Robert Gates and Leon Panetta.

“We still need to do that in some cases, but in many more cases we’re going to have to pull commercial technologies in and militarize them and operationalize them,” he said Wednesday at a Center for a New American Security (CNAS) conference.

Lynn and retired Adm. James Stavridis, now dean of Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, presented ajust-completed CNAS report on the future of the global defense industry.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20140612/ACQ02/306120016/Former-defense-official-argues-more-commercial-tech

Pumping up the procurement playbook

The Department of Health and Human Services is experimenting with an innovative IT acquisition playbook that assembles templates that contracting officers could use to make quicker and more inventive buys.

HHS Chief Technology Officer Bryan Sivak said his agency asked a contracting officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to put the playbook together using some of the more innovative procurement methods allowed under the Federal Acquisition Regulation.

“The FAR has room for some interesting things,” Sivak said during a panel discussion on innovation at the Management of Change conference in Cambridge, Md. Unfortunately, there is usually “no time for procurement officers to explore those processes,” he added.

Keep reading this article at: http://fcw.com/articles/2014/05/20/hhs-procurement-playbook.aspx

 

FAR Part 1: ‘If it’s not prohibited, it’s allowed’

The May issue of Contract Management magazine, the publication of the National Contract Management Association, featured an article called “Secrets of Superstar Contracting Professionals.” The article (which unfortunately is not available online to non-NCMA members) is by Christoph Minarchik, a lawyer in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and offers a quick guide to overall skills and competencies that freshly minted contracting professionals need to become outstanding in their profession.

I was happy (and, I will confess, flattered) to see, in a section of the article called “Innovation and Risk-Taking,” a short quote from Part 1.102(d) of the Federal Acquisition Regulation, reading in its entirety as follows:

“In exercising initiative, Government members of the Acquisition Team may assume if a specific strategy, practice, policy or procedure is in the best interests of the Government and is not addressed in the FAR, nor prohibited by law (statute or case law), Executive order or other regulation, that the strategy, practice, policy or procedure is a permissible exercise of authority.”

The author went on to state that these words have “reached a near-legendary status in the contracting community,” and that “hushed whispers of it echo through acquisition program offices, [where] grizzled contracting officers vigorously defend it as they pound the table to bolster their case.”

Keep reading this article at: http://fcw.com/blogs/lectern/2014/05/far-part-1.aspx?admgarea=TC_Management

Sequestration will erode innovation at Defense Department, official says

If sequestration continues it will damage weapons systems and erode innovation at the Defense Department, said DoD Deputy Assistant Secretary Elana Broitman during an April 23 panel discussion.

“The sequester cuts are tied to no long-term plan, and, though it’s a truism in the marketplace, we are concerned about enough competition with fewer entities around to fund innovation,” Broitman said at a Bloomberg Government event in Arlington, Va.

If the DoD can’t invest in research and development, it won’t be able to guarantee that it has the best weapons, she said.

“We used to trim things we don’t need. Now we’re choosing between two good things,” Broitman said.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/sequestration-will-erode-innovation-defense-department-official-says/2014-04-28

Download the report here: http://about.bgov.com/bgov200/content/uploads/sites/6/2014/04/2014_BGOV200_book_final_pages-1-1.pdf

DoD plots third chapter in Better Buying Power initiative

Nothing is on paper yet, but the Defense Department says it is in the very early stages of creating a “3.0″ version of its ongoing Better Buying Power initiative.

The newest edition will focus on making sure the military doesn’t fall behind in technological superiority.

Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, said the next edition of the Pentagon’s effort to improve its acquisition system will zero in on an issue that he has become increasingly worried about as sequestration-level budgets take a toll on DoD’s investments in research and development.

While he emphasized that Better Buying Power 3.0 still is in the idea stage, he said it will revolve around the notion that DoD can’t afford to put technology advances on hold just because research dollars are shrinking.

“The first iteration was about the rules. The second one was about creating tools to help people think and do a better job of setting up business deals and executing them. The third is probably going to be about innovation and how we move things more rapidly and more effectively into the hands of warfighters,” he said Tuesday (Apr. 8, 2014) at the 15th annual Science and Engineering Technology Conference sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association in College Park, Md.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federalnewsradio.com/65/3599360/DoD-plots-third-chapter-in-Better-Buying-Power-initiative- 

Differing DoD and SBA rules on protecting SBIR technical data causing confusion

The intellectual property rights of small business are subject to risk from differing Defense Department and Small Business Administration rules governing Small Business Innovation Research contracts, say DoD auditors.

Policies governing how long the technical data developed by small businesses under the SBIR program differ between the Small Business Administration SBIR Policy Directive and the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement.

Federal agencies that spend more than $100 million annually on external research must allocate during the current fiscal year at least 2.8 percent of that budget to SBIR contracts.

The SBA directive governing SBIR says the technical data protection period starts when the last deliverable under the contract is delivered by a small business awardee. That period can be extended if the SBIR data is protected and referenced under a subsequent SBIR contract, even if the rights expired.

The DFARS rule says project completion determines the protection period. DFARS doesn’t whether the protection period can be extended or renewed.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/differing-dod-and-sba-rules-protecting-sbir-technical-data-causing-confusio/2014-03-31

The DoD Inspector General’s report can be downloaded at: http://www.dodig.mil/pubs/documents/DODIG-2014-049.pdf

 

Pentagon and Congress begin rewriting DoD acquisition rules

The Pentagon and the U.S. Congress have begun the tedious effort of reviewing decades of antiquated, cumbersome defense acquisition policies to speed up the defense procurement process and get more bang for the buck.

Unlike previous acquisition improvement projects, which in some cases made the process more complicated, those leading this effort are optimistic because lawmakers and Defense Department officials are tackling this review together. These officials also believe that the decline in US defense spending provides incentives to make the project successful.

“The idea is not to really change any of the intent behind the existing laws, but just to simplify that body of law, make it more comprehensible, make it easier to implement and make it something that is much more focused on results and not as confusing and complex for everybody,” Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, said during an interview in December.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.defensenews.com/article/20140216/DEFREG02/302160012/Pentagon-Congress-Begin-Rewriting-DoD-Acquisition-Laws 

Three IT procurement problems worth solving

The arduous process that small technology vendors must go through in order to contract with government agencies is preventing government innovation when we need it most. As the CEO of 12-person tech firm that recently went through the process, I have experienced this first hand.  [Note: This article represents the personal views of Kuang Chen is the CEO and founder of Captricty, a government contractor.]

While a partnership with the federal government is unusual for a company of our size, we got lucky. We were introduced early on to an internal advocate who saw the value of our solution to transform paper backlogs into digital data at the Food and Drug Administration — performing weeks of manual entry in hours to update a critical drug safety database. As we learned, even with a strong advocate, the procurement hurdles were significant. After getting proof of concept in two short weeks, it took two more months to prepare the paperwork for a security authorization to operate (ATO) and five months for a stop-gap contract. Even after clearing the original paper jam, we are without a contract to handle the additional demand that is now flooding our way.

So where should government begin when thinking about how to streamline the process?  Here are three observations:

  1. Security review is confusing and cumbersome.
  2. Complex contracting offers no simple path for a relatively small project.
  3. Existing procurement models don’t work for new technologies.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.nextgov.com/technology-news/tech-insider/2014/01/analysis-three-procurement-problems-worth-solving/77918 

Study group issues recommendations to improve DoD acquisition

The IBM Center for The Business of Government has issued a set of eight recommended actions that government can take to improve the federal acquisition process.

The report, the third in a series on the government acquisition process, is entitled “Eight Actions to Improve Defense Acquisition” and can be downloaded here.

While the report centers on acquisition in the Department of Defense (DoD) because of its dominant size in the federal budget, the eight proposed action s— which build on previous acquisition reforms including increased competition, more use of best value contracts, expanding the supplier base, and better tailoring of contract types to contract goals — apply to civilian agencies as well. The authors emphasize the urgency of acquisition reform in DoD given budgetary constraints and security challenges, finding that “DoD will need to gain every possible efficiency, while resisting the temptation to buy defense on the cheap.”

More information, including information on a second report, A Guide for Agency Leaders on Federal Acquisition: Major Challenges Facing Government, is available at: http://www.businessofgovernment.org/report/eight-actions-improve-defense-acquisition.

The first report in the series, Controlling Federal Spending by Managing the Long Tail of Procurement, provides the first quantitative analysis and recommendations about government “tail spend” (smaller, non-core expenditures that often receive less attention in cost control but can add up to a large overall amount).