Acquisition processes might stymie new defense opportunities

Contractors face arcane acquisition processes that might slow new defense opportunities.

Pursuing business under the Defense Department’s new spending priorities might be easier said than done for information technology contractors. Although the budget priorities change, DOD’s cumbersome acquisition processes haven’t, some sources say.

“The government doesn’t often buy what it says it wants,” said Pat Ryan, Cisco Systems Inc.’s director of business development for the global government solutions group/defense. “It buys what comes out of the other end of the acquisition, and those are way too often different things, especially over the course of time.”

Historically, the department’s “large system integration model hasn’t been the most effective way of doing business — at least certainly not the most agile,” he said.

The military is driving innovation in technology because of its warfighting needs and sense of urgency, he added, “but that innovation hasn’t caught hold in how they acquire.”

Trey Hodgkins, vice president of national security and procurement policy at TechAmerica, an association that represents the technology industry, said: “We applaud what [Secretary Robert Gates] has spelled out, but we think there are impediments to getting there.… The rules haven’t changed. When I enter the government market, I still have to meet the same set of requirements I’ve always had to meet. My risks are as high as they ever have been. Things like bid protests push risks way up. You cannot enter a competition today and not prepare for bid protests.”

Until those things get addressed, perhaps through legislation or changes in behavior, the government won’t see the kinds of changes they want from contractors. “The risks haven’t changed,” he said. “It’s fact of life in the government market. It is one that impedes the ability to deal with what Secretary Gates outlined, and it is certainly going to slow us down in getting there.”