DoD finalizing major rewrite of acquisition guidance

Pentagon officials are “very close” to finishing their work on an overhaul of the official guidebook to DoD’s byzantine acquisition system, and the process led them to the conclusion that they need Congress’ help to help unwind a cumbersome maze of laws that have been layered on through decades of well-intentioned reform efforts.

The document in question is officially known as DoD Instruction 5000.02 — the key collection of guidance that describes the military acquisition process. Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, logistics and technology, has been working on a revamped version for months.

“I’ll be out very soon,” he said Thursday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It’s going to emphasize tailoring even more than previous editions did. And we show people multiple models of how you can structure an acquisition program depending upon what the product is. You know, at the end of the day, the way you structure the program to develop, produce and field the product depends on what the product is and what it takes to get that job done. There’s a logic and a flow that has to be consistent with what you’re trying to accomplish. And it’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all business. We do a large range of different types of things.”

That tailored approach to acquisition is consistent with the messages in the current Better Buying Power effort Kendall’s office has been leading in DoD, emphasizing that the department’s own professionals need to use their judgment to structure the right acquisition vehicle and contract type for the right job. The latest version came with the tagline: “A guide to help you think.”

Kendall says the rewrite of the instructions was needed, in part, because of several recent laws Congress has passed imposing new requirements on DoD acquisition managers. And reworking the document from scratch led his office to the conclusion that those recent legislative changes were just one more layer on a system that’s been growing in complexity for decades.

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Five-year cost of IT procurement reform estimated at $145 billion

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the cost to amend laws regulating how the federal agencies acquire and manage information technology projects would cost nearly $145 billion to implement for fiscal years 2014 through 2018.

That bill would use pay-as-you-go procedures for funding, and agencies not affected by annual appropriations could feel effects on direct spending, the CBO said Nov. 12, 2013.  (See cost estimate at: )

Under current law, the CBO estimates the federal government spends $50 billion per year to acquire IT products and services through interagency contracts.

The man behind the MRAP moves on

Amid the awards and decorations on display in the Pentagon office of Ashton B. Carter, the departing deputy secretary of defense, is a metal bearing, larger than a golf ball, which wears the scars of battle.

If the signature weapon of tenacious insurgents over the past decade-plus of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was the improvised roadway explosive, then the signature weapon of the American response was the Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle, or MRAP.

The ball bearing so prized by Mr. Carter came from one of the vehicles, easily recognizable by their angular shape, to deflect blast, and outsize outside armor.

First as the Pentagon’s under secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, and then as the department’s deputy, Mr. Carter played a central role in the initiative to rush MRAPs to Afghanistan for the troop surge, circumventing the calcified procurement system that traditionally takes years to move a weapon from idea to the front lines.

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House panel targets DoD acquisition reform, but will that be enough?

The House Armed Services Committee is taking another crack at defense acquisition  reform.

Committee chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) recently tasked Vice Chairman Mac  Thornberry (R-Texas) to head up a new panel looking at ways to reform the defense  acquisition process.

“While this Committee has led successful efforts to improve the way the Department  acquires items and services, there are still significant challenges facing the  defense acquisition system,” McKeon said in a release. “We cannot afford a costly and ineffective  acquisition system, particularly when faced with devastating impacts of repeated  budget cuts and sequestration.”

The announcement came as experts on defense acquisition gave the committee some  guidance on how to proceed. One of the witnesses was Dov Zakheim, former  undersecretary of Defense (comptroller) and now a senior adviser at the Center for  Strategic and International Studies. He says a new approach to defense acquisition  reform has the potential for new results and the old approach won’t work this time  around either.

“The way that we’ve been trying to do it, which is essentially focusing on  specific issues with legislation, addressing them or process improvements is just  not the way to go,” Zakheim told In Depth with Francis Rose. “It  clearly hasn’t worked.”

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Acquisition training among starting points recommended by GAO for DoD procurement reform

The Department of Defense (DoD) must get better outcomes from its weapon system investments, which in recent years have totaled around $1.5 trillion or more.  This opinion comes from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in an Oct. 29, 2013 report entitled, “Defense Acquisitions: Where Should Reform Aim Next?”

DoD’s acquisition of major weapon systems has been on GAO’s high risk list since 1990. Over the past 50 years, Congress and DoD have continually explored ways to improve acquisition outcomes, including reforms that have championed sound management practices, such as realistic cost estimating, prototyping, and systems engineering. Too often, GAO reports on the same kinds of problems today that it did over 20 years ago.

Recently, there have been some improvements in DoD procurement, owing in part to reforms. For example, cost growth declined between 2011 and 2012 and a number of programs also improved their buying power by finding efficiencies in development or production and requirements changes. Still, cost and schedule growth remain significant; 39 percent of fiscal 2012 programs have had unit cost growth of 25 percent or more.

DoD’s acquisition policy provides a methodological framework for developers to gather knowledge that confirms that their technologies are mature, their designs stable, and their production processes are in control. The Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009 and DoD’s recent “Better Buying Power” initiatives introduced significant changes that, when fully implemented, should further strengthen practices that can lead to successful acquisitions. GAO has also made numerous recommendations to improve the acquisition process, based on its extensive work in the area. While recent reforms have benefited individual programs, it is premature to say there is a trend or a corner has been turned. The reforms still face implementation challenges and have not yet been institutionalized within the services.

Reforms that focus on the methodological procedures of the acquisition process are only partial remedies because they do not address incentives to deviate from sound practices. Weapons acquisition is a complicated enterprise, complete with unintended incentives that encourage moving programs forward by delaying testing and employing other problematic practices. These incentives stem from several factors. For example, the different participants in the acquisition process impose conflicting demands on weapon programs so that their purpose transcends just filling voids in military capability. Also, the budget process forces funding decisions to be made well in advance of program decisions, which encourages undue optimism about program risks and costs. Finally, DoD program managers’ short tenures and limitations in experience and training can foster a short-term focus and put them at a disadvantage with their industry counterparts.

Drawing on its extensive body of work in weapon systems acquisition, GAO’s latest report recommends several areas of focus regarding where to go from here:

  • at the start of new programs, using funding decisions to reinforce desirable principles such as well-informed acquisition strategies;
  • identifying significant risks up front and resourcing them;
  • exploring ways to align budget decisions and program decisions more closely; and
  • attracting, training, and retaining acquisition staff and managers so that they are both empowered and accountable for program outcomes.

These areas are not intended to be all-encompassing, but rather, practical places to start the hard work of realigning incentives with desired results.

A copy of GAO’s complete 17-page report can be downloaded here:

Reforming a Defense acquisition system that costs money, lives

(Editor’s note: The following is an Op Ed written by Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-TX, vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and chairman of the HASC Subcommittee on Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities.)

A scan of any week’s headlines makes clear that the world is not getting any safer, nor are our security challenges getting any simpler.  We face a complex array of threats, known and unknown.

Yet, we will have to meet those threats with tight defense budgets for the foreseeable future.  Even if Congress and the President can agree to find other savings to replace further defense cuts under sequestration — which we should — the United States will still have to meet essentially unlimited threats with quite limited resources.  That means it is more important than ever to get the most value possible out of each dollar spent on our national security.

Too much of the money spent now is not used as efficiently or as effectively as it should be.  Upward of 10 percent of the entire federal discretionary budget goes to buying things for our troops, ranging from tanks to toilet paper.  Reform of defense acquisition – the goods as well as the services we buy – must be a top priority.

There are a lot of good people in and out of government who work hard to see that our military is provided with the best.  But they operate in a system that too often works against them.  Heavy federal regulations drive up the cost of military hardware.  There are nearly 2000 pages of acquisition regulations on the books, many of which have not been reviewed in years.  Too often, Congress and the Pentagon respond to cost overruns by adding another law or an additional oversight office.

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All acquisition laws to be scrubbed, says Petagon official

Acquisition reform. It almost makes you feel good to hear those words. They connote improvement, reason and good government. But the more acquisition reform America gets from Congress and the Pentagon, it seems, the less return we get on each dollar we spend.

Estimates of the cost of government oversight of Pentagon acquisition range from $6 billion up. The amount of time and money it takes to deliver most major weapons has increased ever since the famous Packard Commission.

Combined that with sequestration and the coming drawdown of US forces around the world, and there seems to be a growing consensus that the laws governing how the Defense Department buys its weapons need a complete makeover.

Today, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, Frank Kendall, told an audience of acquisition experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that his office is “looking at the body of law on acquisition management” with an eye to fixing it all. He plans to work very closely with Congress on this — as he must. Between the complexity of the laws themselves, their number and the keen congressional interest this is “not going to be a quick and easy job,” Kendall noted dryly.

Meanwhile, one of the most powerful defense lawmakers has taken it upon himself to pursue broad improvements to the acquisition process. House Armed Services Committee co-chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, one of the most intelligent legislators dealing with defense issues, held the first of a series of hearings on acquisition last week.

Declining Bang for the Buck brief-CSIS-11-7-2013

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Army cyber chief meets buyers In pursuit of faster acquisition

The Army’s top cyber commander, Lt. Gen. Edward Cardon, met with acquisition officials for several days last week eager to find ways to buy capabilities within three years or less.

Cardon told reporters at a roundtable here that he wanted to buy “faster, better, quicker” since the cyber realm doesn’t really allow for the seven to 10 years a standard acquisition program usually takes.

He noted the hierarchy of acquisition, with DARPA producing really cool stuff when it hits the sweet spot, standard acquisition doing what it does, rapid equipping filling in combat gaps and in-house projects.

One of the difficulties with figuring out just what works best now is that Army Cyber Command and its equivalents are very new and are still not generating many requirements. “We have to, because that’s what drives the system,” he said.

On other fronts, Cardon says Army Secretary John McHugh is “very close” to making a final decision on establishment of an Army cyber center of excellence (approved in July by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno). The center, likely based at Fort Gordon, Ga., would be the one place where all Army cyber warriors received their training.

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‘Fundamental’ procurement reforms called for

The Professional Services Council is lobbying members of Congress and administration officials for “fundamental” acquisition reforms across government, including expanding the reach of the White House procurement office and exploring ways to decrease bid protests.

Officials for the trade group, which represents government services contractors, said it’s too early to say how the bid protest process might be reformed, but industry leader joined in the chorus of complaints long echoed by government officials.

“There’s a certain amount of frustration that it slows business down,” said Ellen Glover, a commission member and executive vice president of ICF International Inc. Her comments came during a press briefing as the PSC unveiled a commission report addressing what officials called “the intersection of federal human capital, acquisition and technology.”

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Is it time to reinvent acquisition?

Federal IT managers and contractors need an acquisition workforce and relationships that are better equipped to handle shifting technologies and economic uncertainty, a new Professional Services Council study found.

The study, released Sept. 9 and titled “From Crisis to Opportunity,” shows federal IT management is not keeping up with technological changes. While 85 percent of the federal IT leaders polled said IT was “extremely important,” just 25 percent said their workforce was “extremely competent” in complex IT acquisition skills. More than 50 percent rated such competencies as “average or worse.”

In remarks at a Sept. 9 press conference, PSC President and CEO Stan Soloway said three fundamental problems plague federal acquisition:

  1. Difficulties in developing modern acquisition training and maintaining a strong federal workforce.
  2. A lack of collaboration within federal agencies.
  3. A lack of strong leadership at some government agencies.

While there are strong acquisition programs at the Office of Management and Budget and Department of Homeland Security, Soloway said, others are not forward-looking enough when it comes to developing and maintaining acquisition personnel.

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