Tag Archives: Government Acquisition Reform

Adaptive Acquisition Framework — Ready, Set, Contract?

Image: Defense Acquisition University


This new Adaptive Acquisition Framework displays a patent willingness to put substantial trust in program managers by moving decision-making authority as close to the program manager as possible.

For this new framework to prevail, there must be trust in contracting officers by moving authority for actions as close to the decision-maker — the contracting officer — as possible.


“Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord has called the Adaptive Acquisition Framework “the most transformational change to acquisition policy in decades.” Her statement is difficult to argue given the revolutionary nature of the framework’s alterations to acquisition policy and the lack of truly transformational changes seen in acquisition policy and statute over the past 25 years. 

For decades, Defense Department leaders have lamented the laborious, bureaucratic acquisition process and its hindrance to innovative breakthroughs within weapon systems programs.

Many defense technologies, once fielded, lose a non-trivial portion of their relevance due to acquisition delays, a concept identified by former Defense Secretary James Mattis in the 2018 National Defense Strategy. The document pointed to processes’ non-responsiveness and a department over-optimized for exceptional performance, both of which come at the expense of providing timely capability delivery to the warfighter.

In response, Lord rapidly pushed out sweeping new guidance in the form of a six-pathway framework — the Adaptive Acquisition Framework — which is designed to put authority and agility back in the hands of program managers. With this newfound ability, executives will transition between pathways in order to speed delivery of capabilities to the warfighter.

Still, acquisition is not a solo sport. Program managers must rely on their team of acquisition professionals to embrace this new paradigm of speed, agility and risk management for this “transformation” to result in real change in capability delivery. But increasing speed, agility and risk sends a measure of anxiety through the vertebrae of the many contracting professionals who have focused on delivering contracts that are protest-proof and rigidly built to withstand the assaults of indistinct scope and performance.

Nonetheless, for the framework to deliver capabilities at the speed of relevance, contracting professionals at all levels must be willing to embrace this revolutionary change.

This change comes with a prerequisite to develop not only new and inventive processes, but an expanded tool box of soft skills necessary to bring about innovation, active management of risk, and corporate synergy to the contracting community that will result in high-speed, low-drag contracting.

The “Contracting Professional’s Career Roadmap” is a nine-step list published by the Federal Acquisition Institute. It provides contracting professionals a succinct overview of gates through which a contracting professional must successfully pass in order to be effective. Curiously, the first stop on this path, “become familiar with the federal acquisition process,” is not a contract-centric element. The federal acquisition process is not contracting, but contracting is a major subset. The process is the overarching method encompassing all relevant skills and functions by which the federal government acquires products and services.

Ironically, the second stop on the roadmap is “understand your role as a contracting professional” within this process. It was not by chance these items are numbers one and two on the path. That is because federal acquisition is a team sport, of which contracting is one player among many. As with any team sport, each player must understand his or her place and responsibilities within the team framework, otherwise the team will fail. The first thing a youth football coach should do is line up new players in formation — both offense and defense — so they can gain an understanding of where their position is in relation to all the other players. A single player lining up incorrectly could result in a penalty or failure for the team to properly execute the play.

Understanding where a manager fits in the overall formation is just as important in the acquisition team. Taking it to another level, each player also needs to understand how his play impacts his teammates. Commentators often praise a great player for their “knowledge of the game.” It isn’t just their knowledge of their specific responsibilities as a player, but the interrelation of how their play improves the play of those around them.

In federal acquisition, each team member must perform with that level of understanding in order for this new transformation to be successful. This may be even more imperative for contracting team members as the contracting processes tend to consume a significant portion of time while they deliberate source selection and performance risk.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition Kevin Fahey identified a need to develop a culture of innovation and creative compliance, and enable critical thinking. In order to be innovative, creatively compliant and critical thinkers, department leadership wants acquisition teams to take calculated risks. As Gen. George S. Patton said, taking risks “is quite different from being rash.”

One tool that transforms rash behavior to measured performance is risk management. To take calculated risks, contracting professionals will need to learn how to actively manage risks. Program managers routinely manage risks and, as a programmatic community, have become comfortable mitigating, accepting, transferring or avoiding risks within their programs.

Contracting professionals must learn and implement these skills as they execute contractual actions. No longer will the acquisition community idly await the perfect contract. Perfection late is perfection lost. Too often contract award timeliness was sacrificed in an effort to gain contractual perfection through overly cumbersome approval chains and non-value-added reviews.

Timeliness has also been assaulted by excessive “documentation,” which has been a watchword for the contracting community and for good reason. However, as with any good thing, it tends to be overdone. In some ways the acquisition community may have become overly obsessive and unreasonably compulsive with its documentation, and some streamlining may be in order.

Procedural changes to contracting are only a first step. The real gains may be seen in a closer coupling of the acquisition team functional communities. In today’s continuously changing environment, requirements can no longer be developed in a vacuum only to be thrown over the fence to the next team. Requirement generators, program managers and contracting officers must integrate early and intimately in the requirements process to develop requirements, discuss possible options, perform market research, consider acquisition plans and jointly produce acquisition timelines. Contracting professionals often enter or are invited late into the acquisition process. Contracting organizations do it to themselves when they demand customers only turn over a requirement once it has been fully detailed with the finalized work statement, funding documents and cost estimates.

In today’s rapidly changing environment, contracting professionals better serve customers by entering as early in the requirements generation process as possible. The team must come together so closely and early that it would be difficult for an outsider to identify where program management stops and contracting starts.

If the first time a contracting professional sees a requirement is when it has been fully documented in a formal work statement, an opportunity to bring value to the process has been lost. Additionally, synergies that come from synchronized market research and critical thinking amid the program manager, contracting officer and other acquisition team members are missed; and with it early considerations for competition, innovative contracting and/or small business participation because the requirement has been fixed making change too difficult or time consuming.

Failing to capture the synergistic effects of close coordination, contracting will struggle to regain any status as an innovation enabler, and may continue to be relegated to chasing acquisition timelines and contract perfection.

The Adaptive Acquisition Framework is an opportunity to inject innovation, creativity and critical thinking into the federal acquisition process by placing authority and agility into the hands of program managers. However, this transformational change to acquisitions will not create true transformation unless the players are willing to embrace the change. Program and product managers can only deliver capability as fast as their team supports.

Although the framework is program management focused, it also presents a challenge to — and opportunity for — the contracting community. As a critical component to the delivery of products and services, the contracting community must get on board with the new vision being promoted by leadership. It is a vision overdue given the speed at which technological capabilities are progressing.

More specifically, contracting professionals must understand that timeliness can no longer be held hostage by contractual perfection, overly cumbersome approval chains and non-value-added reviews. Perfection late is perfection lost. As a result, contracting professionals must become intimately integrated early into the acquisition process starting at the notion of the requirement. Otherwise, they risk being a deterrent to the innovation and creativity crucial in today’s fast-moving environment.”


Dr. William A. Schleckser is a professor of contract management at the Defense Acquisition University. He is Defense Department Level III certified in contracting and program management.

A Pentagon Procurement Program That Seems Doomed to Fail

Image: “Greycampus.com


The Pentagon spends more money on federal contracts and relies more on private contractors to provide necessary support than all other U.S. government agencies combined.

With a potential ceiling of almost $8 billion dollars, the NGEN-R is one of the largest non-hardware contracts ever awarded. The problem with massive, long-duration IT contracts is that the pace of technological change often makes them out-of-date almost from the start.


“The primary objective of the contract is to manage, modernize and eventually merge several massive Navy and Marine Corps networks that collectively encompass some 400,000 computers and 800,000 users at 2,500 locations. NGEN-R will provide secure data and information technology services such as data storage, email, cloud services, and video teleconferencing for Navy and Marine Corps ships and locations around the world.

As if this were not in itself a major undertaking, the Navy acquisition bureaucracy decided to make the effort even more challenging. First, it decided to split what had been for twenty years a single contract into two: a smaller hardware-centric section, and a larger one focused on services and support. Second, the Navy chose to assume the responsibility for overall management of the two contracts. Third, it awarded the services contract to Leidos, a company with no prior experience in providing support to major Navy/Marine Corps networks. Fourth, the new contract sets an extremely aggressive schedule for transferring responsibility for multiple networks from the existing contractors, who have some 30 years of experience in this field.

The NGEN-R award repeats an often-seen pattern in defense acquisitions, particularly those involving IT services and support contracts. The acquisition bureaucracy isn’t satisfied with incremental advancements; it wants to preside over “transformational change.” As a consequence, it dispenses with experienced contractors and tried-and-true approaches in favor of modernizing complex networks. This same bureaucracy buys into the new contractor’s promises that it can effortlessly take over for its predecessors, and then simultaneously integrate and modernize the Navy’s networks—all while lowering costs. We’ve seen this movie many times before and it never ends well.

When an IT network procurement goes wrong, a lot of bad things can happen. The most immediate impacts will be slow responses to individual needs and major events alike. In the former case, this results in increased dissatisfaction and frustration; in the latter case, missions are endangered when Sailors and Marines can’t get data or effectively communicate. Furthermore, it’s less than helpful when the “green” service desk team—the place where one goes for IT support—is struggling to understand how things work. Compounding this demand for IT help is the age of the technology, as refresh cycles for replacement laptops and PCs were likely put on hold until the new team was firmly in place. In the longer term, the Navy risks backsliding on everything it has accomplished over the last 20 years to consolidate its networks, standardize its technology and rein in IT spending. 

Were these normal times, the Navy and its new contractor might have the time and resources to weather the inevitable delays, service interruptions, and cost increases that will result from the acquisition bureaucracy’s desire to have the new contractors do it faster, better and cheaper. However, these are extraordinary times. We are in a crisis in which clear communications and a reliable network are much more important than they were when the contract was awarded. Like everyone else in the world, the Department of the Navy faced a massive challenge in getting several hundred thousand Sailors, Marines and civilians set up to telework and unlike a business, the important mission—protecting the United States—did not stop to wait for the IT to catch up with this radical change. The Navy’s networks have had to be reconfigured in real time while adding new nodes (such as two hospital ships deployed to support New York and Los Angeles’ health systems) and ensuring that both the Navy’s networks and connections to medical networks across the country are viable and secure.

There are already signs that the NGEN-R contract is heading for difficult times. The most notable was the early talk by the winning bidder about changing the solution that they proposed. In a recent interview, Gerry Fasano, head of Leidos’s Defense Group, acknowledged that the network “has continued to evolve, and so we’ll update ourselves from what we proposed and then worked through our transition plans.” Read this to mean: get ready for lots of change orders as the company attempts to make good on all its commitments.

In late April, the Department of the Navy’s Chief Information Officer, Aaron Weis, said in an interview that the Navy has been looking to “jumpstart” modernization—which is the right thinking—but expressed concern that the recently-awarded NGEN contract was the best path forward: “One of the first things we really talked about was do we stop NGEN-R and reset it given what we thought we needed to do. The reality is, given the acquisition timeframes, it probably would’ve set us back another year.” In hindsight, that would not have been a high price to pay.

The Navy’s plan to modernize its IT networks is likely to be dead in the water for an extended period while the NGEN contract transitions and networks struggle to deal with the new reality of communications in the era of COVID-19. While the acquisitions folks won’t feel a bit of pain, the Sailors and Marines and the state and local communities they are trying to help certainly will.

The NGEN-R award is currently in protest. But whatever the outcome, the Navy should take the opportunity to reconsider its rush towards an unpredictable future. The Navy needs a different approach, one that doesn’t put its networks and thus its pandemic response at risk, much less the security of the Nation and tens of thousands of Sailors and Marines. It would be wise for the Navy to suspend the NGEN-R contract and pursue a new competition.”


Air Force To Pump New Tech Startups With $10M Awards



The service has been experimenting with ‘pitch days’ across the country over the last year, such as the Space Pitch Days held in San Francisco in November when the service handed out $22.5 million to 30 companies over two days. 

The first-of-its kind event in Austin, called the Air Force Pitch Bowl, will match Air Force investment with private venture capital funds on a one to two ratio


“PENTAGON: The Air Force will roll out the final stage in its commercial startup investment strategy during the March 13-20 South By Southwest music festival, granting one or more contracts worth at least $10 million to startups with game-changing technologies, service acquisition chief Will Roper says.

So, if the Air Force investment fund, called Air Force Ventures, puts in $20 million, the private capital match would be $40 million.

AFWERX, the Air Force’s innovation unit, has one of its hubs in Austin.

“This has been a year in the making now, trying to make our investment arm, the Air Force Ventures, act like an investor, even if it’s a government entity,” Roper explained. “We don’t invest like a private investor — we don’t own equity — we’re just putting companies on contract. But for early stage companies, that contract acts a lot like an investor.”

The goal is to help steer private resources toward new technologies that will benefit both US consumers and national security to stay ahead of China’s rapid tech growth, Roper told reporters here Friday.

The Air Force wants to “catalyze the commercial market by bringing our military market to bear,” he said. “We’re going to be part of the global tech ecosystem.”

Figuring out how to harness the commercial marketplace is critical, Roper explained, because DoD dollars make up a dwindling percentage of the capital investment in US research and development. This is despite DoD’s 2021 budget request for research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) of $106.6 billion being “the largest in its history,” according to Pentagon budget rollout materials. The Air Force’s share is set at $37.3 billion, $10.3 billion of which is slated for Space Force programs. 

“We are 20 percent of the R&D is this country — that’s where the military is today,” Roper said. “So if we don’t start thinking of ourselves as part of a global ecosystem, looking to influence trends, investing in technologies that could be dual-use — well, 20 percent is not going to compete with China long-term, with a nationalized industrial base that can pick national winners.”

The process for interested startups to compete for funds has three steps, Roper explained, beginning with the Air Force “placing a thousand, $50K bets per year that are open.” That is, any company can put forward its ideas to the service in general instead of there being a certain program office in mind. “We’ll get you in the door,” Roper said, “we’ll provide the accelerator functions that connect you with a customer.

“Pitch days” are the second step, he said. Companies chosen to be groomed in the first round make a rapid-fire sales pitch to potential Air Force entities — such as Space and Missile Systems Center and Air Force Research Laboratory — that can provide funding, as well as to venture capitalists partnering with the Air Force.

As Breaking D broke in October, part of the new acquisition strategy is luring in private capital firms and individual investors to match Air Force funding in commercial startups as a way to to bridge the ‘valley of death’ and rapidly scale up capability.

Roper said he intends to make “maybe 300 of those awards per year,” with the research contracts ranging from $1 million to $3 million a piece and “where program dollars get matched by our investment dollars.”

The final piece of the strategy, Roper explained, is picking out the start-ups that can successfully field game-changing technologies.

“The thing that we’re working on now is the big bets, the 30 to 40 big ideas, disruptive ideas that can change our mission and hopefully change the world,” Roper said. “We’re looking for those types of companies.”

The Air Force on Oct. 16 issued its first call for firms to compete for these larger SBIR contracts under a new type of solicitation, called a “commercial solutions opening.” The call went to companies already holding Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards. The winners will be announced in Austin.

If the strategy is successful, Roper said, the chosen firms will thrive and become profitable dual-use firms focused primarily on the commercial market.

“The, we’re starting to build a different kind of industry base,” Roper enthused. “So, we’ve gotta get the big bets right. Then most importantly, if you succeed in one of the big bets, then we need to put you on contract on the other side, or else the whole thing is bunk.”

Attempting The Biggest Defense Reform In A Generation



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.


“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.”


Early Glitches In GSA FedBizOpps Conversion To BETA SAM

Image: https://ndptac.org/_files/docs/news_release/fbo_transitioning_to_beta.pdf


The new Beta.Sam.Gov website absorbed FBO.gov and many other government databases on Nov. 8 with more to be consolidated. [ https://beta.sam.gov/ ]

Analysts at The Pulse GovCon provided us with a list of problems with the transition”


“Change is hard for everyone, and when something you rely nearly every day changes overnight. That’s really hard.

I heard the reports about slowness and glitches. So I waited a few days. And I gave it a test drive today. I’m not real happy and I’m not alone.

For me, I used FBO.gov to search for new requests for information and sources sought as well as solicitations and awards. I went there to search for specific contracts. For me, the advanced search feature was easy to use and almost intuitive.

Was it perfect? No. I wish it went back more than a year. I wish there were more connections between procurements.

I know all of us have unique information needs. Most of you probably aren’t looking for the same thing I am. I want to look at the last two or three days of postings dealing with IT, professional services and research-and-development. I also want to filter notices based on sources sought, awards, solicitations and justifications.

FBO.gov would generally provide what I was looking for. I’d find some nice news tidbits and I could track developing procurements.

Beta.Sam.Gov seems to have more features, but I can’t figure out why it has so many date choices to filter searches on. There is something called “Inactive Date”, followed by “Published Date” (I think I know what that is.) Then there is “Updated Date” and “Response/Date Offers Due.”

Narrowing my search parameters is difficult. I can’t seem to save my searches. The help function just isn’t, well, very helpful.

I’m not alone in my challenges.

One contractor complained that Beta.Sam.gov changed “Solicitation Number” to “Notification Number.” And what does that mean?

There are no push notifications yet for new opportunities or updates. This contractor called notifications “arguably the most critical feature” of FBO.gov.

That person voiced concern that we’ll see fewer procurements going through Beta.Sam.gov and moving to other means that don’t require public notification because if industry is struggling with it, then government contracting shops are as well.

Market research firm The Pulse GovCon has multiple concerns with the transition. Like Deltek and Bloomberg Government, The Pulse relies on the data from Beta.Sam.gov to track new procurements and contract actions.

Analysts at The Pulse GovCon provided us with a list of problems with the transition:

  • Lack of communication from the General Services Administration during the transition. “It is unclear who the owner of this is,” they said.
  • The API, which pulls data from the backend, is limited and doesn’t match information that you see on the front-end page.
  • Agencies are still being migrated, which makes identifying opportunities disjointed.
  • Advanced searches and saving searches are a struggle.
  • Frequent time outs.

I hope GSA is working to improve Beta.Sam.gov. Frankly, it makes me nervous that FBO.gov is gone and is replaced with something called Beta. You don’t replace a tried and true tool with something called Beta.

I’d like to hear what you are experiencing. If you have any tips or tricks, please share.”



Nick Wakeman

Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.

Today’s Challenges In Federal Government Software Acquisition

Image: “E-Commerce Times”


Previously, when purchasing equipment, the Defense Department spent most of its money on the physical material to build a system instead of the guts of the platform.

That has now flipped to a point where the department spends only about 30 percent on the physical side and 70 percent on software “


“Effectively acquiring and sustaining the massive number of software systems the Pentagon employs is a perennial problem, experts say. It often takes too long for the Defense Department to purchase and deploy new, cutting-edge software or upgrades.

Despite efforts by Congress to root out the problem through various well-intentioned reports, issues persist, said Jeff Boleng, a special assistant for software acquisition at the Defense Department. He is a key member of Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord’s executive leadership team.

“We’ve got a whole bunch of numbers staring us down — we’ve got 804, 805, 809, 813, 872, 873, 874, 868,” he said, referring to sections of recent National Defense Authorization Acts.

“Essentially, Congress is inside DoD’s decision loop here telling us how to fix software more quickly than we can actually address some of the problems and implement them,” he noted.

Boleng is working closely with the Section 872 panel which — alongside the Defense Innovation Board — is focusing on software acquisition regulations, he said during a recent event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

The report will soon wrap up and is slated to be delivered to the Pentagon in April and then to Congress in May, he added.

“There’s a lot in there. Surprisingly, there’s not a ton that’s new,” he said. “I hope that the timing is right for some of these recommendations. We’ve been looking back in history at various other studies that have been done on acquisition reform, software technology, information technologies. [And] we’ve been lamenting about this problem since the ‘70s — literally when software first started to even be created for defense systems — and a lot of times we say the same things.”

Andrew Hunter, director of the defense-industrial initiatives group at CSIS, said in his former life as a Capitol Hill staffer he saw many reports come and go that were meant to get after improving software acquisition at the Defense Department.

Congress “asked the department to make radical change in its approach to software acquisition some years ago — the original [Section] 804 — which was essentially do everything for software different without any definition of what that meant, what that would look like [or] how to do that,” he said.

Staffers would ask if the department was executing what Congress had requested and it was sometimes tough to make the case that it was, Hunter said.
Now, however, there is more granularity and solidity to the efforts underway, he noted.

Beth McGrath is a managing director at Deloitte who formerly worked for the Pentagon as a chief management officer for information technology and worked closely with Capitol Hill on ways to acquire IT systems faster. Software acquisition is often complicated, she said.

“Business IT seems super easy when you compare it to F-35 [joint strike fighter] or all of the other systems or major defense acquisition programs,” she said. “But I found it to be probably one of the most challenging, and some of it has to do with the … literacy of the department in terms of … how to buy and what to buy.”

Brett Lambert, vice president for corporate strategy at Northrop Grumman, said software is just one example of a transforming defense industrial base. “At the same time, the acquisition system by which we acquire these products and services didn’t change that much and that’s where all the frustration grew,” he added. Pentagon officials must be mindful of avoiding a one-size-fits-all mentality when it comes to software acquisition, he said.

“Not all software is created equal,” he said. Lambert noted that there is software inside of his dishwasher at home. It is important but represents only a small part of the cost of the overall system.

“But I also have software in my car that updates every day and it kept me from hitting a scooter coming down here this morning,” he said.

The software in the car is inherently more valuable because it is providing a service all day, every day and must be constantly refreshed, Lambert said. As the Pentagon acquires new software, it needs to think hard about what those systems are meant to do.

Lambert also cautioned against vendor lock.

“What you want to avoid if you’re an acquisition executive is being in a position where you’ve acquired a piece of kit or a piece of software and now you’re beholden to that single entity,” he said. “You can’t make changes to it. You can’t update it. You can’t refresh it and you’re kind of held captive to the individual who created” it.

Additionally, McGrath said the Pentagon should be wary of lowest price, technically-acceptable contracts for software.

“Being in the commercial space, I can tell you it’s a price point competition,” she said. “It’s essentially LPTA for most of the sustainment for business software.”

Despite being a common contracting method, LPTA does not leave room for innovation, she added. “It’s a race to the bottom,” she said. That dynamic has to change in order to give the Pentagon the best capability available.”


DoD’s Acquisition And Contracting Sees Little Improvement On GAO High-Risk List

Image: GAO


The two items on the high-risk list account for almost $2 trillion in taxpayer funds — about $1.66 trillion in investments of 86 major weapons systems and $300 billion in annual contracted services for the Pentagon. Both of the items have been on GAO’s high-risk list since the early 1990s. “


“Despite sweeping legislative and department changes over the past five years, progress on the Defense Department’s systems acquisition and contracting management remain basically stagnant on the Government Accountability Office’s 2019 High-Risk List of areas that are most vulnerable to waste, fraud and abuse.

The list, released Wednesday, states efforts to shore up problems with DoD weapons systems acquisition remain “unchanged” since GAO’s last high-risk list in 2017. GAO made the same assessment of the Pentagon’s contract management issues, though with a few positive caveats.

At the same time, GAO points out that the government’s inability to address climate change is causing national security issues and will cost DoD more money.

Weapons acquisition

GAO’s report states DoD can get better returns on its weapons system investments by “following knowledge-based practices and developing an action plan for performance measures.”

Though Pentagon leadership undertook initiatives aimed at improving program outcomes, DoD demonstrated progress was lackluster in the past two years.

“DoD programs continue to not fully implement knowledge-based acquisition practices, which increases the risk of undesirable cost and schedule outcomes,” the report states.

The military still has not implemented leading practices and lessons to make greater use of existing financial awards for good performance and has only implemented four of 10 key practices to select, train, mentor and retain program managers.

Additionally, DoD has not identified a plan with specific goals or performance measures to implement across its acquisition portfolio to achieve better results.

The report comes as Congress and DoD have been implementing legislation from the past five years to overhaul and unburden the Pentagon’s acquisition process.

In past defense authorization acts, Congress pushed down milestone authority to the individual military service chiefs, made it easier to buy commercial-off-the-self products and completely rearranged the Pentagon’s procurement office.

Even with those changes and new authorities, DoD is still not up to par on acquisition. However, GAO does give DoD and Congress credit for implementing those reforms.

“DoD reported to Congress in August 2017 that the department was at risk of not being able to acquire and sustain major weapon systems at sufficient levels due to increasing cost,” the report states. “To counter this risk, DOD’s new position of undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment is to focus on major defense acquisition program performance and on reducing costs to free up resources for further investment.”

The department also has not had much time to implement the measures. Last March, the military secretaries asked Congress to slow down its reforms so the military would have time to implement past ones.

“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. 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,” Navy Secretary Richard Spencer told Congress.

Contract management

DoD faces many of the same problems with contract management. Even with congressional changes and authorities, the Pentagon’s improvements are lacking.

Contract management once again has leadership behind it, but DoD still has not implemented ways to improve its acquisition workforce, service acquisitions or operational contract support.

“Over the years since we added this area to our high-risk list, we have made numerous recommendations related to these high-risk issues, 18 of which were made since the last high-risk update in February 2017,” the report states. “As of November 2018, 41 recommendations related to this high-risk area are open.”

While DoD increased its acquisition leadership and bettered training, there is still no framework for the acquisition workforce that identifies key times frames, metrics or projected budgetary requirements associated with key goals or strategic priorities.

DoD still has not developed plans to use an annual inventory of contracted services for workforce and budget decisions, which is statutorily required, and the department still needs to develop metrics to track progress associated with shaping the future of the acquisition workforce.

Climate change

One area gaining particular attention this year from Congress is the affect of climate change on the fiscal exposure of DoD.

Comptroller General Gene Dodaro said climate change is affecting DoD’s operations domestically and internationally.

“DoD needs to have a plan to look ahead as they are building their infrastructure and modernize their infrastructure to build in climate resistance policies and procedures,” Dodaro told members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Wednesday. “Congress required them to develop a plan and submit it to the Congress, which they did, but many members of the armed services committees weren’t satisfied with the plan. The Defense Department is now back preparing an additional plan.”

GAO will look at that plan when it’s ready and add recommendations.

Dodaro said DoD installations have coastal issues with rising sea levels, and previous storms like Hurricanes Michael and Florence have been very costly to the Pentagon.

He added that since 2005, the government has spent close to half a trillion dollars recovering from disasters.

“The cost of inaction is sort of incalculable, but it’s very high,” Dodaro told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “For every dollar spent on hazard mitigation and resilience building, it will save $6 down the road.”

Dodaro went on to say that with disasters predicted to be more severe and more frequent, the government needs to invest in planning and mitigation.

Additionally, Dodaro said climate change is a national security issue internationally as droughts and disasters affect global migration patterns and socio-economic status of countries.”


Other Transaction Authority (OTA) Comes Under GAO Scrutiny


GAO OTA Brakes


“In the wake of Oracle’s successful protest of a $950 million “other transaction authority” award by the Army to REAN Cloud, house appropriators are putting the Defense Department on notice that they’ll be keeping a close eye on future OTA awards.

The issue is the use of such awards for procurements that don’t fit the experimental or prototype model that OTAs were intended to handle.”


“The flexible procurement authority is “an important tool to provide flexibility and agility for cutting-edge research and development projects and prototypes,” lawmakers wrote in a legislative report accompanying the defense funding bill released by the House Appropriations Committee on June 13. “However, the Committee is concerned with the lack of transparency on the use of OTA authority for follow-on production procurements.”

The bill requires that the Secretary of Defense notify House and Senate defense committees 30 days in advance of obligating funds for production contracts under other transaction authority.

In the decision on Oracle’s protest of Army’s cloud award on behalf of U.S. Transportation Command, which was released with redactions on June 4, GAO General Counsel Thomas H. Armstrong concluded “the Army had no authority to award the [production OTA] here.”

GAO found that the solicitation for the prototype, prepared in conjunction with the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx), didn’t indicate the possibility for a follow-on production award. The decision also points out that the sole-source production OTA was issued despite the fact that the prototype work of moving Transcom apps and data to cloud enclaves had not been completed.

In a June 12 note to clients, the Washington, D.C., law firm Arnold and Porter said the Oracle decision sends a strong signal to defense agencies that GAO will use its authority to review whether agencies are following the law when it comes to choosing OTA over a competitive procurement.

In the case of Oracle’s complaint, the attorneys wrote, “the GAO identified specific process flaws and implied that had the agency written its prototype OTA award slightly differently, and waited slightly longer for completion of the prototype project before issuing its follow-on production order, there may not have been a problem from the GAO’s perspective.”

The report concludes that “OTAs are not a get-out-of-protests-free card.”