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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Is NetCents a victim of a broken system?

I’ve written a lot about NetCents 2 over the last couple of years as we’ve tracked the awards and protests, and then new awards and more protests, etc.

Words like "troubled" and "debacle" are often used to describe the contract, particularly NetCents 2 Products, which the Air Force finally resolved by awarding contracts to all the bidders after three attempts to get the contract up and running.

But a concerned group of former acquisition officials argue that the blame doesn’t lie with the team at Gunter Annex at the Maxwell Air Force base in Montgomery, Ala., who are responsible for the contract.

The group, whose members asked to remain anonymous, have close ties to Gunter, and have crafted a defense that includes a description of the process and a defense of the Gunter team.

Here is their defense:

Shooting the Messenger?

As the NetCents 2 source selection drags on, many in industry and elsewhere in the Air Force assume the blame rests with the team at Gunter Annex in Montgomery, Ala.

The people at Gunter have had the responsibility for releasing the request for proposals and conducting the source selection, as well as managing contracts once they are awarded. Many therefore assume Gunter should also bear full responsibility for the lengthy and unwieldy acquisition process.

But if you step back and look at the byzantine organization that is really behind the entire NetCents 2 debacle, Gunter seems to be an innocent victim left to take the blame.

NetCents 2 is part of the Program Executive Office for Combat and Mission Support portfolio. But the work of actually preparing and releasing the final RFPs, conducting the source selection and managing the contracts (once awarded) falls under the PEO for Business Enterprise Systems.

It appears that each time the PEO/BES NetCents 2 team at Gunter has tried to move forward, they have had to wind their way through a convoluted series of “management reviews” that sent them through no fewer than five major acquisition offices.

These reviews wound their way through Hanscom Air Force base, then Headquarters AF Materiel Command at Wright Patterson, before going to the Pentagon for further reviews within the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisitions, and then to the PEO/CM, who has ultimate responsibility for the NetCents 2 program.

While the management reviews were officially intended to improve the outcome, invariably they appeared to have had the opposite effect. The numerous management reviews spawned multiple committees, none of which had the authority to fast track the process, but all of which could veto portions of the effort.

Frequently, the committees created conflicting guidance which had to be reconciled (both up and down the coordination chain) before any progress could be made. This approach of RFP and source selection by committee ultimately creates an acquisition that is much harder to defend in the face of protests.

This process has resulted in NetCents being in source selection since July 2010. Industry, as well as users of the NetCents contracts, now see the real consequences of that strategy.

Each time one of the management reviews changed the work effort, the process reverted to the beginning of the chain, and Gunter had to pass each gate again… and again… and again. 

Sources state that on more than one occasion, the source selection team had made the final down select recommendation, only to be forced to go back and repeat the process, usually with the same end result.

NetCents 2 has become a case study in how not to speed up and improve the acquisition process. Instead of taking a complicated procedure and improving it by simplifying it, the tendency has been to make it even more complicated. 

Instead of blaming PEO/BES Gunter personnel, maybe they should be rewarded for surviving a no win process that was imposed on them.

If you want to know who is really responsible, look at who is really in charge --or at least should be – and what have they done to fix this.

Back to me now.

I’ve sent a synopsis of this defense to a few people to get their reaction. I also sent a synopsis to the Air Force public affairs office at Gunter to get their reaction, but so far nothing.

The argument this group makes sounds reasonable to me and fits with procurement trends I’ve seen over the last couple years. When the government talks about procurement reform today, it seems to be more about adding layers of review or more reporting requirements. There is little focus on how to make procurements run faster and more efficiently.

One executive that got back to me said he could see their point. “Gunter used to set the standard for program management in the government sector,” he said. “But this procurement has been an example of how not to do it.”

However, he didn’t think he could give Gunter a complete pass because some of the decisions involving NetCents were made at Gunter, and weren’t the most sound. But if Gunter was under the influence of this system, “they could be exonerated,” he said.

But this executive, who’s company won a spot on NetCents 2 Products, is ready to put the contract’s trials and tribulations behind.

“At this point, we are focused on moving forward with the program and trying to make the most of it,” he said.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Nov 07, 2013 at 8:00 AM


Reader Comments

Fri, Nov 8, 2013 Jake Grappa No. Va.

After the Tanker Scandals, for a couple of years DoD revoked the Air Force's procurement authority. This is proof, yet again, that the World's Best Warfighters in the Air cannot spend the US Taxpayer's Buck in a responsible matter. They do not care about that, and have a sense of entitlement to taxpayer funds that is palpable. Courts martial, criminal malfeasance prosecutions, and demotions are in order. Give the AF procurement authority to OSD again, or in pieces to another service. Any service. Even the US Park Service. The Air Force cannot cut it

Fri, Nov 8, 2013 BB DC

The government procurement process was lampooned wonderfully in an HBO movie in the 90's named "Pentagon Wars" starring Kelsey Grammer from "Cheers" and "Fraiser" fame. The similarities between this movie and the NetCents 2 debacle are striking. Having been an executive who went through and won a NETCENTS 1 contract, the entire NETCENTS 2 process (which started in November 2007) has been a mystery to most of us. My final comment would be don't be too quick to give Gunter personnel a pass on this issue. The more recent issues have been greatly influenced by PEO overseers, but way back in the beginning this abomination didn't get derailed; it was designed off the tracks from the start.

Thu, Nov 7, 2013

Instead of blaming PEO/BES Gunter personnel, maybe they should be rewarded for surviving a no win process that was imposed on them. If you want to know what is really responsible, look at what is really in charge. Sr. Business Operations Manager Major NetCents I Contractor

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