Buy Lines: Intelligence reform: Don't forget the business side

Stan Soloway

Since Sept. 11, 2001, there has been a steady stream of proposals to structurally and operationally reform the U.S. intelligence community. Now, with Congress and the president focused on implementing at least some of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, reform has gained new ? and possibly unstoppable ? momentum.


There are significant arguments over details, but few question the need for intelligence reform. However, there seems to be less acknowledgement that the ultimate success of the reforms, as measured by better mission execution, will hinge largely on whether they also include the acquisition and business side of intelligence.


Acquisition policy and process is linked inextricably to mission execution. The quality of the government's business relationships with the private sector is more central today than ever before to the ability of the government to meet its many requirements.


Simply put, the government's ability to partner with the private sector ? so that agencies can obtain the widest possible array of best-value solutions for their requirements ? is an escapable and vital component of mission success. Recognition of that fundamental fact was a principal driver in the acquisition reform movement of the 1990s. Unfortunately, to date, neither that recognition nor acquisition reform has been inculcated broadly in the intelligence agencies or the current reform proposals.


You can see this in many places. The National Reconnaissance Office, as discussed in this column a few months ago, prohibits any exclusive teaming agreements on NRO projects. In many agencies, including the Homeland Security Department, federally funded research and development centers are moving beyond their defined roles into systems engineering and operational functions that, by law, are the purview of companies in the competitive technology marketplace.


You also see it in the antiquated, disconnected and increasingly problematic security clearance process, in the number of fixed-price development contracts still coming from intelligence agencies, and in the continuing obstacles to effective information sharing.


I don't want to be overly negative. The intelligence community does have robust relationships with significant private sector providers and has made progress in recent years. And there are certainly examples of innovative acquisition and business models among the intelligence agencies, including the National Security Agency's Groundbreaker contract and the CIA's relationship with In-Q-Tel, a private, non-profit enterprise that invests in cutting-edge technologies.


But such examples are both limited and exceptional. Even companies that have long supported the national intelligence mission recognize that things must change if the agencies are to get the true best value for the government and taxpayer, as well as the best-of-breed technology capabilities to meet the critical, ever-evolving intelligence mission.


No organization can function optimally if it fails to ensure the proper alignment between its business processes and its mission needs. This is among the most significant lessons identified in a recent lessons-learned exercise on contracting in Iraq that the Professional Services Council conducted with the Army. It is a lesson that has been learned many times over in government.


The world we live in mandates a governmentwide intelligence capability that is optimized. The movement to reform substantially the nation's intelligence apparatus thus presents a crucial opportunity to act on those lessons and to address a range of critical, underlying acquisition and business issues. It is an opportunity that should not be missed. n


Stan Soloway is president of the Professional Services Council. His e-mail is soloway@pscouncil.org.

About the Author

Stan Soloway is a former deputy undersecretary of Defense and former president and chief executive officer of the Professional Services Council. He is now the CEO of Celero Strategies.

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