Inside DOD


Amber Corrin

Inside DOD

By Amber Corrin

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Defense acquisition: the 800-pound gorilla in the room at IRMCO

At the Interagency Resource Management Conference last week, acquisition was a popular topic of conversation -- not surprising, since a large number of the attendees work count acquisition as some or all of their jobs. After all, the government can't have any of the goods or resources it needs without the acquisition and procurement process.

So why, at a conference dedicated to federal resource management, was talk about defense acquisition seemingly as taboo a conversation subject as partisan politics or religion?

The Defense Department’s inventory represents some 86 percent of government assets, according to the March 23 report from the congressionally appointed Defense Acquisition Reform Panel. Defense acquisition accounts for some $4.6 trillion in government assets – also known as federal resources.

In a session titled “Leveraging Partnerships to Fuel Innovation in Acquisition,” a panel of four high-level acquisition professionals praised their pet projects, favorite programs and noble civil servant colleagues. But nobody mentioned the aspect of acquisition that perhaps most needs innovation, that could benefit most from strategic partnerships, that the Defense Acquisition Reform Panel deemed to be “failing the mission” in its processes: those that arm our military.

In the session on innovative acquisition, Karen Pica, management analyst at the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, enthusiastically touted her office’s moves to streamline recruitment and hiring and attract talent to come work for the government.

But despite her role as a top analyst of federal procurement, Pica had nothing to say about defense acquisition; in fact, she pointedly avoided answering a direct question about the subject.

Which is too bad, because the Defense Department could use her ideas – considering the panel on acquisition reform recommended “significant improvements” in managing the acquisition process, developing and incentivizing the highest quality workforce, improving financial management, and maximizing the industrial base.

Only the session provocateur, Lesley Anne Field, would speak to the issue. Field, OMB’s deputy administrator for federal procurement policy, said DOD too can leverage partnerships, both within the department and with other government agencies.

“There are lots of opportunities to recognize inefficiencies and make improvements, but it can’t be done in a vacuum in the acquisitions office,” Field said. “To help meet the guidance, DOD needs relationships, especially within the agency. [The department has to] force partnerships.” Such relationships could help spur efforts and get DOD acquisitions reform moving forward, she added.

It’s important, too, for innovation to touch defense acquisition as much as any other type. Hopefully DOD will overcome its traditional isolation from the rest of the government to take advantage of strategic partnerships that can help it improve – and hopefully the rest of the government is willing to share the wealth of new ideas and approaches, including those brought forth at IRMCO.

Posted on Apr 20, 2010 at 7:25 PM0 comments


Cultural changes at DOD a major factor in defense acquisition reform

The Congress-appointed Defense Acquisition Reform Panel recently scolded the Defense Department for its outdated policies in buying its weapons, saying that the current approaches don’t meet today’s need for speedy procurement, particularly with regard to information technology.

Now, the defense IT community is speaking out with its own views on acquisition reform.

They agree that DOD acquisition policy is grossly ill-suited for IT. Originally geared for large-scale weapons systems, the obsolete policies are based on timelines of years rather than the nanoseconds of today’s IT. In this game, even months can be too long for getting the latest technology into the hands of the military.

DOD is trying, some say. “Having nothing is worse than having a partial solution,” said Tim Harp, component acquisition executive at the Defense Finance Accounting Service. According to Harp, who spoke at a briefing in Washington held by TechAmerica on April 6, internal coordination is under way to address ways to quickly move on reform.

But what’s behind the lagging policy reform?

"Cultural issues” are taking an increasing amount of blame for DOD’s lacking progress into the 21st century. “Changing mindsets and culture will be the long pole in the tent,” said House Armed Service Committee’s Kevin Gates, also speaking at the briefing. "We need a new mindset of IT as a weapons system, and that's slowly integrating."

Defense contracting has a direct impact on acquisition as well; contracting commercial technologies is how DOD acquires the weapons and systems it puts in the hands of service members.

“Acquisition [personnel] use the familiar and comfortable approaches [to contracting], which are better suited for large-scale procurement,” Gates said. “We need to take a fundamental look at the contracting mechanisms and incentives. Some are better for IT than others, but the community doesn’t always know what works the best.”

Poor defense IT acquisition has widespread implications, affecting even not-so-obvious arenas like corporate behavior, said IBM executive consultant Bruce Leinster.

He also said that too many legislative fixes geared toward improving contracting practices are actually bogging down the process.

“Let’s fix the abuse and not create all the legislation,” he said. According to Leinster, the government’s heavy hand is costing defense acquisition, including overzealous taxing on contractors and a litany of requirements and restrictions that “scare off” potential contracting competition as well as private sector talent.

Posted on Apr 06, 2010 at 7:25 PM1 comments


President marries green proposals with national defense strategies

President Barack Obama on March 31 announced plans to use energy initiatives to improve national security, while simultaneously praising the Defense Department’s progress and imploring DOD to help wean the United States from its foreign oil dependency.

“The Pentagon isn’t seeking these alternative fuels just to protect our environment; they are pursuing these homegrown energy sources to protect our national security,” Obama said, speaking at Joint Base Andrews-Naval Air Facility Washington, just outside D.C. “This is particularly relevant to all of you who are serving in uniform.”

The session was rife with symbolism, including the “Green Hornet” – a modified F-18 the Navy hopes will be the first aircraft the break the sound barrier powered by alternative fuel – and a light-armored vehicle currently being tested for use with biofuels.

Obama lauded DOD efforts, pointing at the stated goal of Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to employ 50 percent alternative fuel in all airplanes, vehicles and ships by the next decade, as well as the $2.7 billion set aside for energy efficiency in the 2010 defense budget.

“The Air Force is also testing jet engines using biofuels and had the first successful biofuels-powered test flight last week,” he said. leadership.

Posted on Apr 01, 2010 at 7:25 PM0 comments


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