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

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.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.defenseone.com/management/2014/09/hagels-right-hand-man-acquisition-reform/95048/

Can the federal acquisition process support innovation?

There is widespread agreement that the federal government’s process for acquiring goods and services needs to change to enable agencies to keep with the rapid pace of technology development. But with more than 1,800 pages of rules and regulations governing that process—known as the Federal Acquisition Regulation—there is growing concern that the government cannot truly support innovation without a dramatic simplification of the rules.

“I think we can get there. To do that, I think we need additional changes in the FAR,” said Wolfe Tombe, chief technology officer at U.S Customs and Border Protection, in an exclusive interview with FedScoop. “I think the FAR needs to evolve to actually support innovation.”

According to Tombe, the federal acquisition process needs to be streamlined to remove existing obstacles to the private sector’s ability to interact with federal requirements managers. “Now we go out with a request for proposals and we’ll say what we think we need, and I think a lot of times there are vendors who could come back if the FAR allowed it, and [recommend better, more cost-effective solutions],” Tombe said. “The FAR needs to be redone so it enables that kind of interaction. It’s hard [for a vendor] to come back and say they have a better idea.”

Keep reading this article at: http://fedscoop.com/really-needs-done-acquisition-reform/

Recommendations for DoD acquisition reform focus on 7 areas

The Defense Department added its voice to a growing list of associations and lawmakers with ideas on how to improve the military’s acquisition process.

DoD’s ideas center less on what Congress can do and more on what it shouldn’t do.

Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, sent a letter to Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) back in June detailing seven areas where he thinks DoD needs help to improve acquisition outcomes.

For the first time publicly today at the AFCEA Acquisition Modernization conference in Washington, Kendall highlighted his seven recommendations.

Kendall said the biggest thing Congress could do is end the threat of sequestration in 2016 and beyond.

“2013 was a nightmare year. We actually implemented sequestration well into the year. We bought ourselves a little time with the deal that got us through 2014 and presumably through 2015. It’s coming right back in 2016,” he said. “We are working on the budget right now. The services are finalizing their [budget plans], and we will go through an exercise this fall where we will have to look at what the President will submit and something that is compliant with sequestration to see what the damage is. The damage is huge.”

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federalnewsradio.com/394/3676550/Kendall-shapes-DoD-acquisition-reforms-around-7-areas-

‘We’ve got to stop throwing Hail Marys’

The future of federal IT contracting could look a lot like the environment at Google and other high-tech companies, where cutting costs and boosting efficiencies are as routine as breathing. But, say former and current procurement officials, winning the future will still involve knowing the nitty-gritty of what an agency is trying to accomplish with its IT contracts.

Being able to act quickly and effectively in the face of technology that has outpaced government’s ability to buy it effectively is a constant challenge, according to panel discussions at the National Contract Managers Association’s 2014 conference in Washington on July 28. In the face of similar challenges, private industry has adopted shorter development cycles coupled with more agile techniques.

If we want real innovation, we need to stop looking for ways to circumvent the federal acquisition system and work together to improve it, writes Stan Soloway.

Federal agencies are just beginning to do the same.

“We’ve got to stop throwing ‘Hail Marys” at large federal IT projects, Joe Jordan, former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and now president of public sector at FedBid, said during a panel on technology’s impact on acquisition. “It’s got to be broken up into five- to 10-yard passes.”

Keep reading this article at: http://fcw.com/Articles/2014/07/28/No-more-Hail-Marys.aspx?Page=1&p=1

Contractors group would restructure White House procurement shop

Citing a “human capital crisis” in a federal workforce beset by retirements and inexperience, a major contractors group on Monday proposed acquisition reforms that would speed up the procurement process, enhance industry-agency collaboration and reorganize the White House Office of Federal Procurement Policy to improve workforce training.

The Professional Services Council’s report joins an array of acquisition reform efforts under way in the executive branch and on Capitol Hill in addressing the need to create contracting officers with a more sophisticated grasp of industry trends in services contracting, particularly in information technology.

“We need to fundamentally rethink the workforce, to create a unified vision across government,” said Stan Soloway, president and CEO of the council, which represents 375 member companies. “It will affect everything from how we prosecute wars to how we operate our business systems. The time for incremental or tactical change has long passed.”

Keep reading this article at: http://www.govexec.com/contracting/2014/07/contractors-group-would-restructure-white-house-procurement-shop/89870/

Read the full report by and recommendations of the Professional Services Council at: The PSC Acquisition and Technology Policy Agenda – 07.28.2014

Management of HealthCare.gov website now open for bid proposals

The White House has begun its search for the next stewards of HealthCare.gov.

contract solicitation posted online Wednesday enumerates the qualifications and requirements of the next Obamacare website contractor, charged with keeping the online federal health insurance exchange portal up and running.

The 60-page job posting says the next caretaker of the Obamacare site will need to be able to work “under aggressive time constraints” to work with the Federally Facilitated Marketplace in testing and upgrading a variety of hardware, software, and security features. It also states that the contractor will need to be able to perform tests that can demonstrate that the site can function when a large number of users are online.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.nextgov.com/cio-briefing/2014/07/obama-administration-looking-next-obamacare-website-contractor/88927

The future of contracting

As government agencies now rely primarily on contractors to meet their mission objectives, they must embrace the oversight and management of contractors as a core competency, not as an administrative function buried deep within the management and/or administration office. Mission delivery through external, private-sector, and profit-motivated businesses requires all federal executives and staff to accept their roles in ensuring that contractors properly support the agency’s “customers” as well as its own private business objectives. Immense advances in technology in recent years and the rising prominence of new corporations in our information age replacing those of the industrial age raises the question: How can government acquisition better leverage new methods of communication and technology; and if so, how can it be more effective?

While technology continuously improves our lives in many ways, such as providing new and improved tools to make data more available, functions to perform faster, and communication to be more accurate and responsive, the professional competencies required and goals of government contracting cannot and should not change. These are concepts of fairness, competition, the role of small business, fair and reasonable pricing, ethical standards of conduct, best value, intellectual property, acquisition planning, compliance, etc. There are also business competencies of leadership, economics, accounting, marketing, etc.  The terminology of competencies may change, but the competencies themselves will remain.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20140624/BLG06/306240011/The-future-contracting

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.

 

4 lessons for government leaders on what motivates contractors

Competition was the main theme of the Defense Department’s second annual report on acquisition performance, released earlier this month. Declining budgets may be pushing defense contractors to look for work outside the government, but the Pentagon’s emphasis remains on promoting competition, according to Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

The report analyzed contractors’ cost and schedule performance over more than a decade to see what motivated them to produce better results. Here are some takeaways:

  1. The carrot-and-stick approach works.
  2. Fixed-price isn’t always the best fix.
  3. More competition does mean better performance.
  4. Leadership matters, but it’s not clear how much.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/capitalbusiness/what-motivates-defense-contractors-four-lessons-for-government-leaders/2014/06/27/a623fb06-f577-11e3-a3a5-42be35962a52_story.html