A bold approach to transforming IT acquisition

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.

Alice: I don’t much care where.

The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.

Like Alice, IT procurement reformers are searching for directions without a clear sense of where they want to go.

Rather than continuing to spend billions trying to fix the current IT acquisition system, we must create a view of what acquisition can become, what value it should deliver and what strategic choices we can make now based on that vision.

Since 2013, government executives, industry thought leaders and rising acquisition professionals have been meeting to create the Acquisition of the Future (AOF) movement to give life to that vision and suggest those choices. And we’re almost finished constructing a guide that government can use to take advantage of this new environment and its possibilities.

Keep reading this article at: http://fcw.com/articles/2014/11/17/a-bold-approach-to-transforming-it-acquisition.aspx

The Acquisition of the Future movement is built on understanding Collaboration Age dynamics and trends affecting government and industry, such as those identified by Flextronics Chief Procurement Officer Tom Linton in this graphic by Bruce Van Patter. Want to be a part of it? Go to AcquisitionoftheFuture.org to join the movement.

The Acquisition of the Future movement is built on understanding Collaboration Age dynamics and trends affecting government and industry, such as those identified by Flextronics Chief Procurement Officer Tom Linton in this graphic by Bruce Van Patter. Want to be a part of it? Go to AcquisitionoftheFuture.org to join the movement.

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

Scraping off the barnacles of the defense acquisition system

The defense acquisition system is like an 18th century wooden warship that has been out to sea for too long, accumulating such a surfeit of barnacles that it can barely float, let alone operate under full speed. It has been 20 years since the last time the acquisition system was overhauled in the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act (FASA) of 1994 and since then an excess of new laws, regulations, policies, practices and procedures have been added to the system. It is time to again scrape off these barnacles, and with a nod to the Royal Navy in the 1780s, attach a new copper bottom to prevent future infestation.

This is not just about efficiency and the ability to move faster — although that is important. Acquisition reform is necessary to maintain the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) current technological and military supremacy over potential rivals in the coming decades or risk falling behind more nimble innovators.

Real acquisition reform will be a multi-year effort to ultimately design a new system from the ground up, but the first step is that much of what is old should be reviewed for relevance. This should start with a zero-based assessment that determines the need for current acquisition laws, rules, regulations and practices.

One way to begin this process would be to enact a legislative sunset of procurement laws to require Congress to review the existing system in its entirety rather than just add to it. Current laws should be given a mandated periodic review — ideally of five years while any new legislation that requires an action should pass with a sunset on them. Legislation that waives or provides exemptions to the current process should however remain permanent until the underlying reason for the exemption is eliminated.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federalnewsradio.com/394/3721463/Scraping-off-the-barnacles-of-the-defense-acquisition-system

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

Top administration official says FAR can be made to work

A senior Obama administration official acknowledged that federal purchasing rules are difficult to navigate, especially for information technology projects and services, but they’re getting the job done – for now.

“We may want to think, at some point, about changing authorities. But we have authorities now that can be made to work,” said Beth Cobert, Office of Management and Budget deputy director, referring to the Federal Acquisition Regulation, or FAR.

Cobert delivered the keynote address Oct. 27, 2014 at the Executive Leadership Conference in Williamsburg, Va., an annual conference sponsored by the industry group ACT-IAC.

A common complaint among federal technology officials is that the FAR is better suited for buying filing cabinets rather than complex IT systems and services. In response to the need for more IT acquisition guidance, OMB created something it calls the “Tech FAR.”

In May, then-federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel said in testimony before a Senate committee that the Tech FAR was being developed to help agencies solicit services in new, more agile ways “such as using challenges and crowdsourcing approaches to involve citizens, writing requirements that allow for more flexible execution, or a pay-for-service model.”

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernmentit.com/story/top-obama-administration-official-says-federal-purchasing-rules-can-be-made/2014-10-29

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