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Procurement Processes Must Progress

May 15, 2013
By Maryann Lawlor
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Acquisition reform has never been a hotter topic than it is now in light of recent budget cuts. A panel led by Lt. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sorenson, USA (Ret.), former U.S. Army chief information officer (G-6), and partner, A.T. Kearney Public Sector and Defense Services LLC, tackled this topic, offering ideas about how to get solutions to operators faster even in this resource constrained environment.

Gen. Sorenson started the conversation by pointing to a past acquisition program—the Joint Tactical Radio System—that does not meet the needs of today. The program took too long and cost too much, he said. To avoid these types of failures in the future, the general suggested that the military learn some lessons from how industry conducts procurement. Rather than frequently changing its requirements when it is in search of a solution, industry identifies core requirements and then sticks with them through the development process. In addition, the commercial sector does not set up numerous regulations that must be followed, which only extends procurement times. Finally, compared to the military’s 228 steps from the concept to the end state of a product, the commercial sector’s acquisition steps are in the range of 50. This abbreviated process speeds up the ability to deliver “good enough” solutions before they become obsolete, Gen. Sorenson said.

Rear Adm. Terry B. Kraft, USN, commander, Naval Warfare Development Command (NWDC), related that his organization hits some of these goals by beginning the procurement process with well thought-out concepts. These concepts must fit well with the overall strategy, he added. In addition, the NWDC asks for input from the operators upfront to ensure solutions that are being considered will meet their needs when they are introduced into the field. Despite this solid approach, the admiral admitted that it is not an easy job. “Can you innovate within a bureaucracy? That’s a hard thing to do,” Adm. Kraft stated.

Allan Resnick, director, Analysis and Integration Directorate, Army Capabilities Integration Center, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, agreed that the processes the admiral laid out are good, but another challenge exists. As operations in Southwest Asia wind down, the U.S. Army is going from a military service of execution to one of preparation. The question is, preparation for what, he asked.

Although an easy answer to this question doesn’t exist, it is obvious that the Army must be able to adapt and its operational needs will continue to constantly change. Putting products—particularly technical solutions—in the hands of operators early in the development pipeline is especially crucial to ensure that they perform as needed, Resnick said.

East: Joint Warfighting 2013 wraps up at noon today with a keynote address by Robert O. Work, former undersecretary of the Navy, and current chief executive officer, Center for a New American Security.

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