Tag Archives: Acquisition Improvement

How Pandemic Response Is Shifting federal IT

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Image: London School of Economics and Politiacl Science

FCW”

The pandemic response has shown the traditional 12 to 36 month acquisition planning cycle is not how we need to do things“, says Harrison Smith, Deputy Chief Procurement Officer, at the IRS.

COVID-19 has underscored the need for us to move ahead in a more agile manner but also balance that quicker capability with responsible spending”

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“From supply chain, to acquisition, to automation, the federal response to COVID-19 is changing what IT means to agencies, according to several top federal IT managers.

As the pandemic grew, the Small Business Administration ramped up its telework efforts and surged its personnel and IT to support disaster and small business loan portals, the agency was told there were potential shortages desktop and laptop computers and lagging supplies of peripheral devices such as mice and monitors, according to agency CIO Maria Roat. That shortage, however, didn’t slow the efforts down, as the General Services Administration and NASA’s SEWP contract had enough to support SBA’s efforts, she said, but it showed a potential problem.

With other agencies, including Health and Human Services and the Veterans Administration looking for similar IT gear, “the supply chain on the hardware side was stressed,” said Roat during an April 30 ACT IAC teleconference.

Cross-agency teamwork, she said, is a critical piece of such a huge response. SBA’s dozens of field offices, for instance, can now rely on IT support from GSA and Agriculture Department IT field personnel because of collaboration through the Federal CIO Council, according to Roat. “I haven’t used that yet,” she said, but it’s helpful to know the help is there.

In setting up its telework and loan platform efforts, Roat said SBA has leveraged software defined networking, collaborative technologies, such as Skype, and Microsoft Teams.

In support of the loan platforms, said Roat, SBA has turned up its Gigabit bandwidth on Ethernet backbone circuits to handle the traffic on the portals. The agency, she said, plans to add more capabilities, as well hone existing capabilities in the coming weeks.

“We’re now getting ready for release five” of those portal efforts, she said. The agency will add additional features, such as chat boxes, a way to view active cases and additional workflow refinements, as well as additional personnel, she said.

The COVID-19 response, said Harrison Smith, deputy chief procurement officer, at the IRS, has shown the federal government needs faster, more responsive methods to get what it needs in times of crisis. The pandemic response has shown the traditional 12 to 36 month acquisition planning cycle “is not how we need to do things,” he said.

COVID-19 “has underscored the need for us to move ahead in a more agile manner” but also balance that quicker capability with responsible spending, he said.

That could mean making a way for agencies to shift to more creative ways of getting things on the fly, possibly forgoing interagency agreements for say, shared services, for instance, according to Smith.

GSA, said Beth Killoran, the agency’s deputy CIO, is learning to leverage drones, data analytics and virtual capabilities to handle more of its federal building management duties. The agency is using geotagged images to track contractors’ construction or repair work on its buildings, to save local and federal building inspectors from having to make a trip to sites, she said. The agency is tasking drone aircraft to do exterior building inspections, as well. GSA has also tapped public data of COVID-19 hotspots at federally-owned medical facilities, to inform where its cleaning crews can safely do their work.

Modernized IT, said Roat, Killoran and Smith, is key to responding to such a huge crisis. The workforces at GSA, SBA and IRS, they said, have adapted quickly to telework because they had begun to move toward telework before the crisis.

House lawmakers previously proposed a $3 billion bump for the Technology Modernization Fund in a COVID-19 bill that ultimately went nowhere, but future additions are possible. Roat, who is on the TMF board that approves projects for funding said it’s unclear if any new funding will be approved.

SBA, she said, spent 50 intense days planning and executing a plan to implement IT to support public-facing portals and services for COVID-19 response.

“From where I sit, I’d bet other agencies are doing the same” reflection on how to move ahead from here, she said. “How would we use that $3 billion to look at the bigger picture?” Should it concentrate on shared services, she wondered. “Everyone is at home right now. Everyone is digital. We need to ramp up out digital citizen interaction.”

https://fcw.com/articles/2020/04/30/covid-changing-federal-tech-rockwell.aspx?oly_enc_id=

OMB Wants Public Input To Improve Federal Acquisition And Supply Practices.

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Image courtesy blueoceanacademy.com

FCW

Ideas from supply and acquisition experts outside government can help the government modernize its $575 billion supply chain and acquisition functions.

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“Margaret Weichert, the deputy director of management at the Office of Management and Budget, teed up the effort in a document released Jan. 27 after the White House Summit on Federal Acquisition and Supply Chain Management.

“We want to hear from private sector organizations, researchers, academic institutions, good government groups, the public, and others on the vision and concept for a mechanism to facilitate curated conversations between the federal government and external supply chain and acquisition experts on a variety of issues and questions that support the government’s acquisition modernization effort,” said Weichert in a statement following the summit.”

https://fcw.com/articles/2020/01/28/omb-input-acquisition-rockwell.aspx?oly_enc_id=

Government Seeking To Redefine Procurement “Lead Time”

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Image: FCW

FCW

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) wants to nail down language on exactly when federal procurements begin and end to help eliminate delays.

OFPP proposed a rule change and is seeking comments on redefining the term “Procurement Administrative Lead Time” (PALT) and on a plan for measuring and publicly reporting governmentwide data on PALT for contracts and orders above the simplified acquisition threshold.

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“The agency wants to adopt the definition from section 878 of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. That language defines PALT as “the time between the date on which an initial solicitation for a contract or order is issued by a federal department or agency and the date of the award of the contract or order.”

Establishing a common PALT definition, said OFPP, as well as a plan to measure and report it can help the government pin down delays in the procurement process. Equipped with a common definition, it said, agencies can then use common data to make improvements.

Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel of the Professional Services Council, said he was “pleased” with OFPP’s proposed use of the NDAA definition.

“Time is money” for both federal agencies and contractors involved in an acquisition, he told FCW, adding that a revised PALT definition would help measure both.

Others want to tweak it a bit.

“I propose that PALT be defined as the cycle time between the solicitation response and the date award,” said Dave Zvenyach, former executive director of GSA’s 18F and former deputy commissioner for the agency’s Technology Transformation Service.

“PALT is the sort of topic that drives procurement nerds to drink,” said Zvenyach in a blog post on the issue. Defining it has been traditionally hard to do, since pinning down the “initial moment of requirement identification is notoriously difficult.”

Comments on the PALT language are due in 30 days.”

https://fcw.com/articles/2020/01/21/ofpp-lead-time-rule.aspx

Attempting The Biggest Defense Reform In A Generation

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DEFENSE ONE

Cut or retire various weapons and gear and shift money to efforts deemed of more utility in great power competition.

Congress can expect the 2021 budget proposal, slated for delivery on Feb. 10, to make a clear break with the past to invest in research and development of the future.

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“In two recent memos, the SecDef reveals his intention to change how the Pentagon uses its money, people, and time.

Since New Year’s Day, Defense Secretary Mark Esper has issued not one but two memos to the force. Both push for “ruthless prioritization” by the bureaucracy in support of his top priority: great power competition with China and Russia. 

He’s a man on a mission, and in a hurry. The goal? To achieve “full, irreversible implementation” of the defense strategy. Pentagon officials want to take the military so far down the road that their work cannot easily be unwound by the next cadre of leaders, whenever they might arrive.

In his Jan. 2 memo, Sec. Esper says “aggressive reforms” are getting underway at the Pentagon. He is seeking headroom under the flat budgets to come, but he’s not just looking for loose change in the proverbial couch cushions. He wants the entire defense enterprise to shift its time and people to better implement the National Defense Strategy. The focus on time and tasks is new, and important. The tyranny of the here-and-now (see: Iran) means that for many at the Pentagon, their days do not match the strategy. 

His Jan. 6 memo provided more insights into the reforms. In it, Esper highlighted $5 billion already designated to be squeezed from the 28 non-service defense agencies dubbed the Fourth Estate. He also identified an additional $2 billion in activities that will be shifted to the military services. And he announced upcoming reviews of the combatant commands.

This broad and well-telegraphed push for targeted cuts — including, no doubt, to some congressionally cherished programs — may succeed where previous efforts have failed. Congressional leaders have signaled that they want a list of clear winners and losers. If no one is wailing to Capitol Hill, politicians don’t believe leaders are seriously implementing the strategy. And if the recent past is any guide, Congress will get behind most of the Esper cuts even if they are politically unpopular. 

When he was Army Secretary, Esper led a similar zero-based budgeting review. A whopping 186 Army programs were targeted for elimination, cuts, or delays over five years. Casualties included a container-handling program, lightweight laser designator, mine clearing vehicle, Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle and an armored bulldozer.  Confronted with this “flood-the-zone” approach, Congress wound up approving almost all of the proposed changes. Esper & Co. now hope the same tactic will work with the Fourth Estate reforms and, shortly thereafter, the Navy and Air Force.  

The memos reveal Esper as an ambitious reformer, with goals broader than predecessors Robert Gates, who closed Joint Forces Command; and Chuck Hagel, who slimmed various headquarters staffs. His upcoming reviews of the regional and functional combatant commands presage an assault on a problem that many have long perceived but none have tackled: an imbalance in the requirements-generation process and Pentagon resourcing decisions that insulate and favor combatant commanders over service chiefs. This imbalance has led to some of the problems the defense strategy tries to redress, such as making the Middle East an “economy of force” region where missions are done more efficiently—or not at all.  

Finally, the review is about more than creating tradespace under flat budgets. Between the lines, Secretary Esper is also showing due diligence that could be used when making future arguments to boost defense toplines to fully resource the defense strategy. 

In his Jan. 2 memo, Esper highlights the past three years of steady spending increases and their benefits. He calls out the improved readiness across the force and notes the Defense Department is “beginning to modernize” capabilities across domains with these additional funds.

He echoes this line in the Jan. 6 memo, saying that savings found to date are “only a down payment” on what’s truly needed. He goes on to say that competition and the preparation for high-intensity conflict against a high-end competitor “is expensive.” The implication is that even the most valiant efforts he is overseeing to move money around under the topline will likely be insufficient. 

Members of Congress have been asking for two years whether the Pentagon was buying its own strategy. Most agreed the answer was no. This is one reason defense hawks are disappointed in last year’s budget deal, which dealt the Pentagon an inflation-adjusted decline in its 2021 budget . Policymakers will be quick to latch onto the defense secretary’s nuanced arguments that the three-year Trump bump for defense will not complete the job.”

https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2020/01/esper-attempting-biggest-defense-reforms-generation/162457/

Air Force Category Management: Spend Intelligently, Not Just By Year’s End

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FEDERAL NEWS NETWORK

Again, and again, the Air Force has found that the most important lever for spending efficiency is managing demand.

Redirecting demand to substitute products can end inefficient processes and produce human and monetary resource savings

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“When the Air Force identified fire protection suits as a target for better management, the priority was improving firefighter safety by standardizing equipment. Market analysis had revealed that assembling fire protection ensembles using boots, helmets, gloves and suits bought from different suppliers was a safety problem. It took more training to learn to properly use equipment from different manufacturers, and that opened the possibility for dangerous errors. Mismatched pieces also could expose firefighters’ skin to chemicals and burns.

Buying from a Defense Logistics Agency contract wound up costing more than necessary because the Air Force wasn’t aggregating its demand. Pricing was based on orders from individual bases rather than on the average of 5,000 ensembles bought every year for 10,500 firefighters Air Force-wide.

Benchmarking fire departments in New York and California showed that they buy standard suits for all their firefighters and develop longstanding relationships with the suppliers. So, Air Force firefighters narrowed down their requirements to an overall ensemble configuration. That led to a reduction from 109 to 14 contract line items and 14 contracts to nine—one for chem-bio boots, five for ensemble pieces, and three for suit care and support. The changes saved $1.1 million in fiscal 2018, alone.’

Now, an Air Force directive has made these contracts mandatory, so savings should increase, releasing more funds to buy protective suits and to move to other critical readiness requirements.

In the Air Force’s best-in-class business approach to category management, contracts aren’t the main event. In fact, while the strategy rarely leaves current practice unaltered, it doesn’t always end with changed or new contracts.

Instead, Air-Force-style category management delivers a range of demand-shaping, policy and process improvements aimed at achieving desired outcomes, saving on outlays and redirecting resources to increase readiness and lethality.

Even when category management is focused on improving solutions, it also saves money and improves processes.

The Air Force category management approach can wring efficiency from a mammoth contract like the General Service Administration’s IT Schedule 70.

Agencies come to IT 70 with their individual buys and often end up paying higher prices than they could be. When a company sees an order for 50 printers, it has no idea or expectation that tomorrow another order for 50 or 100 is coming, so it prices according to 50. The Air Force sought to harness the full power of having a bigger contract.

It created a computing blanket purchase agreement (BPA) on IT 70. Every six months, the Air Force puts its entire client computing demand up for bid on the BPA and provides the winner all the Air Force orders for the following six months. The Air Force gives bidders its historical spend data. Eyeing that demand, contractors sharpen their pencils and might even take a loss in the first three months, planning to make it up plus more in the next three because they are confident the orders will be there.

Redirecting demand to substitute products can end inefficient processes and produce human and monetary resource savings, as demonstrated in the case of taxiway lighting. Air Force airfield taxiways need to be lighted at night, and they require a lot of light bulbs. The Air Force was using incandescent bulbs in taxiway fixtures, and they often burned out. Every time one did, a civil engineering troop had to drive a truck out to change the bulb.

Those out-and-backs were creating big manpower and materiel costs. Bases were spending an enormous amount on lighting, not even accounting for the cost of electricity. Shifting demand to substitute LEDs for incandescent bulbs increased bulb life expectancy 100 times, reduced electricity costs by 60%, achieved off-the-charts civil engineering process cost reduction, and is on track to save $4.7 million over 10 years.

Improving outdated or inefficient policies, as in the case of an Air Force elevator maintenance directive, can produce impressive savings by itself. With every base handling its own elevator maintenance contracts, the Air Force Installations Contracting Center (AFICC) had expected that imposing one big contract would be the right way to generate savings. But it turned out that the Air Force hadn’t updated its elevator maintenance policy in 30 or 40 years, even though elevator technology had evolved significantly.

The policy required monthly and quarterly inspections. Because it was an Air Force directive, no base could deviate from it. It wasn’t that costs were so out of line, it was that the policy, and thus the requirement, was out of date. So, AFICC wrote a standardized requirement based on current private sector best practice—some elevators now self-report when they need repairs, for example—and collapsed maintenance costs by 27%.

Follow the Air Force Model

In 2018, then-Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan directed the other military services to adopt the Air Force’s business-oriented category management approach.

Now, the Army is standing up five categories for an Army-wide program and category management is the number two priority for Army acquisition. AFICC is helping the Defense Health Agency and other federal organizations apply the Air Force approach. Air Force category managers also are cooperating with those leading the governmentwide program.

Government-wide category management performance measures such as increasing spend under management (SUM) and moving up the governmentwide program’s tiers of SUM can be important metrics for some purposes, but they don’t change incentives. They won’t help reinvest money from support to mission. They won’t add rigor to focus category management on the spending that will produce the greatest return on investment, and they won’t correct the mistaken belief that a bigger contract is always better.

By tracking the savings from reducing common spending and apportioning those dollars to successful category management practitioners, the Air Force is attempting to move the incentives from “spend all your money on time” to “spend as intelligently as possible.” With help from financial managers, those who take a business approach like the Air Force’s to category management will be able to free up cash flow to invest in mission capabilities.

The United States must move faster than our adversaries can keep up. This requires thinking critically and seeking mission-focused business opportunities. The Air Force example demonstrates that aligning incentives and protecting and encouraging disruptive thinkers and actors can spread exceptional outcomes governmentwide.”

The Road to Acquisition Reform ‘Nirvana’

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Image: James Norton “Linked In

NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE” Editor’s Notes By  Stew Magnuson

The Government Accountability Office in June produced three separate reports related to defense acquisition. Add them to the Section 809 Panel’s final recommendations on acquisition reform and there is a lot to chew on.

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“Ninety-nine years of magazines sit in a bookcase located in the association’s office. What began as Army Ordnance in July 1920 would eventually morph into National Defense.

It’s interesting to flip through the back issues, especially those published prior to 1970, which we will be doing more of as we prepare for the big centennial issue coming out in November.

There is one constant theme in back issue pages: no one has ever been happy with the Defense Department’s acquisition system. Complaints from association members found in the 1930s and 1940s sound similar to ones heard today: the services aren’t clear on their requirements; the system moves too slowly; payments come too late, and so on, and so on. The litany is well known.

The takeaway from this is that the road to “acquisition nirvana,” where everyone is happy with the system, will probably never be reached. But that won’t stop the defense community from trying with blue-ribbon panels, National Defense Authorization Acts and think tank reports — nor should it. Acquisition reform is a never-ending story.

With that in mind, the Government Accountability Office in June produced three separate reports related to defense acquisition. Add them to the Section 809 Panel’s final recommendations on acquisition reform and there is a lot to chew on.

The first report out of the gate: “DoD Acquisition Reform: Leadership Attention Needed to Effectively Implement Changes to Acquisition Oversight” mostly examines the recent initiative to move oversight of major defense acquisition programs from the office of the secretary of defense back to the services. GAO’s conclusion: It’s going fairly well. Of course, keep in mind that once upon a time, someone thought that the answer to the department’s woes was to move oversight of major acquisition programs from the services to the OSD. It will be interesting to see if the pendulum someday swings back in that direction.

The report also looked at the breakup of the OSD’s office of the undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics. One wonders if a decade or two from now, a reform-minded blue-ribbon panel or lawmaker will declare: “We need to combine the OSD’s office of the undersecretary for research and engineering with the office of the undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment so one person can have oversight of programs from beginning to end. That will fix things.”

This report’s other big reveal: The 2016 NDAA gave more freedom and cut some red tape for managers of middle-tier acquisition programs. The services’ response was to declare about everything a “middle-tier” program, which they could do because no one has clearly spelled out the definition of “middle tier.” Therefore, the Army categorized its multi-billion dollar effort to develop the next-generation combat vehicle a “middle-tier” program.

“We found that approximately half of the programs initiated to date would be categorized as major defense acquisition programs if they were not being pursued under a middle-tier pathway,” the report stated.

Perhaps the road to defense acquisition nirvana would be to declare everything “middle tier.” The Columbia-class submarine: middle tier! The F-35: middle tier! Protected communications satellites: middle tier, of course!

The next report: “KC-46 Tanker Modernization: Aircraft Delivery Has Begun, but Deficiencies Could Affect Operations and Will Take Time to Correct” drills down into one specific program, but as GAO said, it “identified a number of insights that could benefit other programs.” The Air Force and prime contractor Boeing entered into a firm fixed-price incentive contract to deliver the first four aircraft, which currently doesn’t seem to be benefitting anyone as the program is three years behind schedule and the aircraft have a number of deficiencies that will cost taxpayers $300 million. That loss will be temporarily made up as the Air Force withholds 20 percent payment on each aircraft.

However, lessons-learned about the benefits and pitfalls of firm fixed-price contracts are not in this report, and are not going to be shared by the Air Force until the program is complete in 2021. As GAO noted, that is of little help to those considering such contract vehicles now.

At the end of June, GAO published, “Contract Financing: DoD Should Comprehensively Assess How Its Policies Affect the Defense Industry.”

Great idea! Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?

The report specifically is referring to performance-based versus fixed-price contracts and payment rates, another debate that could be found in decades-old yellowed pages of the magazine.

The last time the Defense Department comprehensively analyzed this topic was 1985, according to the GAO. Think of all the changes to the industry in the last five years, then all the way back 34 years.

“Until DoD conducts a comprehensive assessment and ensures they are done on a recurring basis, it will not be in a position to understand whether current or future contract financing policies are achieving their intended consequences,” the report said.

There is a lot more to these three reports. But they all prove that the pursuit of acquisition reform nirvana will fill the pages of National Defense for years to come. “

https://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2019/8/6/editors-notes-the-road-to-acquisition-reform-nirvana

Avoiding New Pentagon “Valley of Death” In Weapons Acquisition

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Image: “Acquisition Talk.com”

FEDERAL NEWS NETWORK” By Gary J. Gray, William Riski and George Schleh

Accelerate fielding of new capability without falling into the new “valley of death” is to pursue a hybrid middle tier acquisition/agile acquisition strategy.

It starts with a middle tier acquisition of prototype(s) and allows for time and resources, beginning no later than year three, for full supportability analysis and development; while also completing long-pole documentation in accordance with the Acquisition Agility Act (AAA).

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“The commonly understood “valley of death” is between technology development and transition to a program of record with subsequent fielding of real capability to the warfighter. Said another way, a technology is developed and sits on a shelf without any benefit to the warfighter and the transition into a program of record.

The new valley of death is created when a middle tier acquisition prototyping effort reaches the legal five-year deadline and is not fully supportable or fielded in enough quantities to have warfighting significance. One can also argue that the increasing trends toward prototyping through other transaction authority (OTA) (as part of a middle-tier acquisition or not) can fall into this new valley. Congress is also concerned that this acquisition reform may falter.

The Government Accountability Office released a June 2019 report titled Leadership Attention Needed to Effectively Implement Changes to Acquisition Oversight. In the report GAO finds “As a result, DoD is not well positioned to ensure that approved middle-tier acquisition programs represent sound investments and are likely to meet the objective of delivering prototypes or capability to the warfighter within 5 years.” GAO is reinforcing our concern about the new valley of death. However, they don’t provide a solution and we do.

We propose a promising approach to accelerate fielding of new capability without falling into the new “valley of death” is to pursue a hybrid middle tier acquisition/agile acquisition strategy. It starts with a middle tier acquisition of prototype(s) and allows for time and resources, beginning no later than year three, for full supportability analysis and development; while also completing long-pole documentation (e.g. capability documentation and analysis of alternatives) in accordance with the Acquisition Agility Act (AAA). This will enable a successful milestone B decision to go quickly into the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase into the Production phase (milestone C) (i.e., milestone B/C, or—worse case—a milestone B followed by a quick C.)

Figure 1 – Notional Approach

Middle tier acquisition, which was passed into law in Section 804 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal 2016, addresses rapid prototyping and rapid fielding. Because rapid prototyping, by law, avoids the burden of the formal Department of Defense (DoD) regulations, it is a particularly attractive method to begin a program today. But the more rigorous and detailed DoD Instruction (DoDI) 5000.02 and Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System (JCIDS) processes, which define acquisition requirements and evaluation criteria for future defense programs, may still lie ahead for prototypes destined for a more permanent operational capability.        Insight by Carahsoft: Cyber leaders address cloud security in this free webinar.

DoDI 5000.02 and JCIDS process execution timelines are measured in years and require lengthy documentation and vetting through the Office of the Secretary of Defense, (OSD), Joint Staff, Service, Combatant Command and Agency staffs. Here, program sponsors must meet certain information requirements. Sponsors must develop and document capability requirements, acquisition strategies, and systems engineering plans. For example, the current DoDI 5000.02 identifies over 50 such requirements

Figure 1 shows a comparison of both approaches.

The AAA in Sections 805-809 of the FY 2017 NDAA directed numerous changes to these existing requirements and acquisition statutes. These changes are important for new starts or upgrades to existing programs of record (POR), including upgrades driven by middle tier prototyping efforts. Here are the high-level tenets of the AAA legislation:

  • Joint Staff designates areas where capabilities related to major defense acquisition programs (MDAPs) should evolve to meet changing threats, enhance interoperability and more rapidly employ new technologies;
  • MDAPs use a modular open system approach (MOSA), where practical, to enable that evolution, including cost savings, competition, and technology refresh
  • Military services establish prototyping investments targeted, in large part, to maturing technologies suited to meet MDAP evolution needs;
  • Technical data rights tailored for government purposes to be suitable for a modular, open systems approach.
  • The Secretary of Defense shall provide oversight and establish cost, schedule, performance, and objective quantity goals for MDAPs;
  • Independent risk assessments will confirm that technical and manufacturing risks are acceptably low;
  • New milestone reports will to be provided by milestone decision authorities (MDAs) to Congress for greater transparency;

While most of the changes are encouraging, DoD still could use more relief from Congress in the following areas:

  • Nunn-McCurdy relief associated with changing programs of record to incorporate new component upgrades without being penalized. The Nunn McCurdy Act (10 U.S.C. §2433) requires the DOD to report to Congress whenever an MDAP experiences cost overruns that exceed certain thresholds. A program whose cost growth exceeds the statutory thresholds is said to have a Nunn McCurdy breach. Programs in breach may be terminated if the program is not certified by the Secretary of Defense and restructured. AAA driven changes may cause Nunn-McCurdy breaches and are not necessarily the result of poor management. Although AAA-driven upgrades are encouraged by Congress, Nunn-McCurdy may potentially stifle innovation. We recommend that Nunn-McCurdy breaches do not apply to programs designated as Modular Open Systems Approach-based evolutionary programs that will integrate, test and field component upgrades to meet the evolving threat as intended by the Acquisition Agility Act.
  • Congressional reprogramming authority increase to at least 20% of a POR budget to allow the new upgrade to get a jump start on staying ahead of the emerging threat. (This would notionally be the first year of a 5-year integration and test phase)
  • A sufficiently funded pool to allow for prototyping, integration, and testing of the new component in the context of an existing POR.

The services have implemented middle tier acquisition and AAA in their tailored documentation to some degree, recognizing that both will be key parts of many acquisitions going forward. The Joint Staff should be commended for completing their revised documentation in accordance with AAA in August 2018.) Middle tier acquisition and DoDI 5000.02 updates are still pending.

Our warfighters need capabilities in the field now. The DoD doesn’t need a new regulation to start following the law now, especially laws that strive to make DoD acquisition easier. We encourage the defense acquisition community to better understand AAA and leverage it alongside middle-tier acquisition to ensure effective capabilities are fielded to the warfighter as efficiently as possible.”

Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) Stresses 10 Agency Acquisition Innovations In Use Today

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Image: OFPP

“FEDERAL NEWS NETWORK”

Effort to break down the barriers to innovation that agencies, auditors and mostly time have built up over the past 20 years.

These are things lifted from the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). There’s no new guidance. There’s no new policy. These are existing authorities that contracting officers can use out of the box.

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“Innovation is one of those terms in federal procurement that gets thrown around a whole lot. When is an agency or organization innovative? What stops agencies from trying something new or different when it comes to buying goods and services?

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy is trying to answer those questions and debunk some myths about acquisition innovation in its 4th version of its Myth busters series.

Lesley Field, the deputy administrator for OFPP, said the new memo is part of an effort to break down the barriers to innovation that agencies, auditors and mostly time have built up over the past 20 years.

Lesley Field is the deputy administrator of OFPP.

“The reason we focused on the misconceptions and facts on innovative practices was to get at that complex base where we have a lot of folks who need to spend their time and talent figuring out how to solve our hard problems,” Field said in an interview with Federal News Network. “These are things lifted from the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). There’s no new guidance. There’s no new policy. These are existing authorities that contracting officers can use out of the box.”

The idea that the memo highlights existing authorities and includes use cases has been a standard with the myth busters memos. In each of the previous three iterations, OFPP has tried to ensure it not only “busted the myth,” but provided examples or best practices.

This is now the fourth myth busters memo since 2011. The others addressed industry and agency communications, including debriefings discussions during market research for a request for proposals.

In this latest myth busters memo, OFPP asks CFO Act agencies to address a long standing challenge with these memos ensuring industry and contracting officers are aware and understand what the memo is telling them they can do.

OFPP directed each agency to publicly name an industry liaison “to serve as a conduit among acquisition stakeholders and promote strong agency vendor communication practices.”        Honor current and former members of the Armed Forces. Send them a free eCard during National Military Appreciation Month.

At the same time, Field said OFPP started an “in-reach” campaign because they have found there is an awareness gap with contracting officers. Over the last three memos, this awareness gap issue has been a major hurdle standing in the way of the program’s success.

Field said OFPP and the Chief Acquisition Officer’s Council are planning webinars with federal procurement experts, an Acquisition Gateway University program and to figure out how to further educate contracting officers and contracting officer representatives (CORs) about the acquisition facts.

OFPP is depending on the CAOs, acquisition innovation advocates and other leaders to share and trumpet the myth busters memo.

Soraya Correa, the chief procurement officer at the Homeland Security Department, said she emailed the memo to her entire acquisition community.

“The other thing I do is I take the opportunity during my procurement community townhall, which I’m having another one next week, I’ll discuss the memo and why it’s important to keep these lines of communications open, and I encourage and support doing these things. Believe it or not, the word does get out because I’m talking directly to the 1,400 people or so that are out there across the DHS landscape.”

Correa said she also talks with other CXO leaders, including the general counsel’s office.

“I try to include the lawyers in all the activities that we engage in. Whether it’s our strategic industry conversations that I host every year or reverse industry days or our acquisition innovation roundtables and even [Procurement Innovation Lab (PIL)] boot camps, I’m happy to say our attorneys are participating in these activities. They hear what I have to say and they understand what we are trying to do,” she said. “What we have to do is include them in the conversation, by bringing them in to help them understand what we are trying to do. Instead of saying to them, ‘can I do this?’ Maybe the question is ‘how can I do this?’ Change the conversation a little bit with the lawyers, and you may get a different outcome.”

Field said OFPP also recognizes the need to bring procurement attorneys into the discussion. She said her office is sharing the myth busters memo through the procurement attorneys roundtable, an informal gathering of acquisition lawyers used as a sounding board, to ensure they understand what’s possible.

“The other thing we did with myth busters is attach a tear-sheet for the first three myth busters guidance so folks can take it and hand it to someone and say, ‘look OFPP is saying we can use these practices,’” she said.

DHS has used its PIL to demonstrate many of these concepts, including Myth #7: using product demonstrations before an agency buys—the show me, don’t tell me approach—and Myth #1: using innovative business strategies.

Correa said the memo’s message is clear: Agencies need to do a better job engaging with industry and it’s good to be transparent and open.

“We will create better and more effective processes when we do that,” Correa said in an interview with Federal News Network. “I can tell you my experiences has been the more we engage with industry here, the better solutions we are getting. We believe industry finds us to be a little more transparent than in the past.”

Field said one of the biggest myths she hopes the memo debunks is the one that says the FAR is complex and that’s why there are long lead times.

She said while there are complexities in the FAR, the agencies have a lot of authorities and flexibilities that they can use to get industry engagement early and often.

“The one thing I really like about this is we are going to make this a living document. This isn’t static. We are going to add examples, try to connect folks who are working on similar kinds of things and put resources up on the Acquisition Gateway so that contracting officer, program managers, lawyers and everyone involved in the process understands what they can do,” she said. “DHS and a lot of the other agencies have had great success with some of these practices. It’s reduced the burden on vendors. It’s helped us meet a lot of our goals.”

Supply-Chain Threats Prompt Senate Bill On Training Acquisition Officials

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The bipartisan Supply Chain Counterintelligence Training Act would emphasize identifying and mitigating aspects of technology that could allow adversaries to spy on the U.S. government.

Agency officials who handle supply-chain risk management would receive training on how to spot potential foreign threats in IT and communications technology under a bill senators proposed.

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“Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Gary Peters, D-Mich. — the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee — are the lead sponsors.

“America’s adversaries use any means necessary to gain access to valuable and sensitive government information, including possibly inserting compromising code into products or enlisting untrustworthy IT support personnel to exploit government systems,” Peters said in an announcement about the bill. “Allowing an adversary to gain a foothold in America’s technological supply chain is a risk that simply cannot be tolerated.”

The bill comes as the U.S. cybersecurity community and government are paying increased attention to where federal technology originates. Most prominent is the Department of Homeland Security’s 2017 binding operational directive ordering agencies to remove Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab’s products from their systems. DHS cited Kaspersky’s close ties to Russian intelligence, as well as Russian laws that could potentially force the company to hand over information on U.S. systems. The defense authorization bill that President Trump signed into law in August 2018 also blocks government purchases from Chinese tech companies Huawei and ZTE on similar grounds.

Kaspersky and Huawei both have rejected the U.S. accusations.

The Senate bill would require the Office of Management and Budget, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security and General Services Administration to collaborate on creating the program.

In December, Trump signed legislation establishing the Federal Acquisition Security Council and allowing classified information to be used in supporting supply chain risk assessments.

Last month, Federal Chief Information Security Officer Grant Schneider said the new council is developing criteria for making recommendations on equipment, products and services that shouldn’t be allowed to do business with government.

A Senate bill introduced earlier this year would create a White House Office of Critical Technologies and Security to protect against the theft of U.S.-developed technologies and risks to critical supply chains. Senators also have expressed concerns about the use of foreign VPN apps.”

Congress Scolds Pentagon For Moving Too Slow on Acquisition Reform

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“Over the past few years, Congress gave DoD a slew of acquisition tools to use to attract nontraditional companies, bring in small businesses and fire up innovation. 

The House Armed Services Committee’s Ranking Member Mac Thornberry (R-Texas)  says DoD is taking too long to implement those laws and it’s causing national security issues. “

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“The House Armed Services Committee’s top Republican doesn’t like the speed in which the Defense Department is implementing acquisition reforms and possible cuts to some defense agencies, and he’s ready to do something about it.

Committee Ranking Member Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) told reporters Tuesday he’s prepared to use legislative “sticks and carrots” to spur DoD on to abide by the law faster.

“There are some basic constitutional principles here,” Thornberry said. “If the law says you should do it; you should do it. We have tools, fencing money, and a whole variety of things that we can look at doing if a department is not implementing the law.”

Fencing money is when Congress doesn’t allow an agency to access a certain amount of funds unless the agency reaches certain benchmarks set out by Congress. Lawmakers fenced the Defense Innovation Unit’s money a couple years ago until it delivered a clear roadmap and strategy to them.

Over the past few years, Congress gave DoD a slew of acquisition tools to use to attract nontraditional companies, bring in small businesses and fire up innovation. Thornberry says DoD is taking too long to implement those laws and it’s causing national security issues.

“Part of the consequence of that is that it is still far harder and more difficult to do business with the Department of Defense than it should be and a fair number of innovative companies are saying it’s just not worth it,” Thornberry said. “Even if all of that were being implemented perfectly, there are still challenges for some small company that has technology X and says ‘I can go to the commercial market this fast and make this amount of return or I can go through DoD’s laborious process.’”

To DoD’s credit, it has a lot of provisions to implement and it takes time to change the culture of acquisition professionals so they will use the new tools.

The 2017 defense authorization act had more than 100 acquisition provisions for DoD, including expanded use of other transaction authorities and mid-tier acquisition.

Last March, the military secretaries told Congress to hold off on some reforms so they could focus on the ones they were already in charge of putting into place.

“There’s some fascinating and interesting tools that we’re using and we are going to use and look forward to using, so thank you for those,” Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said. “I would ask for a stabilization period so that we can digest what we have and have the ability to come back to you if we need more, but right now the knife drawer looks full.”

DoD is also wrestling with recommendations from the Section 809 Panel, which gave the department a whole swath of ways to reduce duplicity and waste in acquisition.

Fourth Estate

Thornberry is also frustrated with DoD over a provision to cut back on defense agencies not aligned with military services, like the Defense Information Systems Agency.

The DoD Chief Management Officer was supposed to submit a report on cutting the fourth estate by 25 percent under the 2019 defense authorization act. Thornberry says the report is still not submitted.

“The plan was supposed to be to us by Feb. 15,” Thornberry said. “Then they said ‘Oh, we are going to be late. It’s going to be, I don’t know, March 15. Well, we still haven’t gotten it. I’m having a meeting this week on this topic.”

One reason DoD may not have provided the report is it hasn’t had a CMO since last November. Lisa Hershman is currently serving in the acting capacity.

Other concerns

It’s not just Congress that’s noticing DoD dragging its feet, and there are other areas DoD is slow to implement the law.

“The process for updating and refining the acquisition regulation to keep pace with Congress has slowed to a glacial pace,” Scott Freling, a partner at Covington & Burling LLP told Federal News Network. “That causes quite a bit of consternation for contractors we work with where there’s changes that Congress has made to the procurement rules that aren’t yet reflected in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) or in the Defense FAR supplement. That uncertainty has been a source of concern by many clients where they are left in a state of wondering where they can avail themselves of the new rules or whether they have to wait until the FAR Council acts.”

It becomes even more of a concern when regulations are put on companies and they aren’t sure whether they need to comply now or after the rule is put into effect.

As an example, the Professional Services Council sent a letter in November to the assistant defense secretary for acquisition asking DoD to issue overdue regulations on the appropriate use of lowest-price technically acceptable criteria for DoD services contracts. The rules would implement a legislative provision Congress enacted three years ago, in the 2016 NDAA.

The Government Accountability Office also scolded DoD for its snail pace.

The House Armed Services Committee took note of the issue in its 2019 defense authorization committee report too.

These types of delays often do not allow “the acquisition and contracting communities within and outside the government” to “take full advantage of recent reforms and improvements to acquisition and contracting procedures,” the report stated.

There are several provisions from the 2016 NDAA that are still in the promulgation phase or have yet to break into the culture of DoD employees.

“It’s definitely taken a few years for the department to get its arms around these authorities,” Bill Greenwalt, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council told Federal News Network. “I’m optimistic now, seeing they are starting to use these authorities. There were so many that were put in place in 2015 and 2016 that we don’t even have regulations for it yet. We are going to have to see how the department gets its arms around that and starts executing.”

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