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Acquisition

The Continuing Journey to Fully Effective IT Acquisition and Management

April 1, 2013
By Kent R. Schneider

Those of us who have been involved with government information technology (IT) for some time clearly remember the many efforts to improve IT acquisition. All certainly remember Vivek Kundra’s IT Management Reform Program, the 25-point plan. Most would agree that progress has been made, but some would argue—correctly I believe—that work remains to be done.

The U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), posted a draft federal IT acquisition reform act on its website last fall. As part of the review and revision process for this bill, the committee invited comments from a broad set of sources. It asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study progress and issues related to IT acquisition and management, and it also held several hearings. Testimony at the most recent hearing, held February 27, revealed progress and disappointments.

The GAO report, delivered to the House committee on January 22, argues that billions of dollars are being wasted in execution of the nearly $80 billion annual unclassified federal IT budget. Most of this waste comes either from unneeded duplication in federal programs, systems and infrastructure, or from failed or ineffective federal IT programs.

While many reasons may exist for the duplications and failures, lack of effective communication seems to be at the heart of the problems. Government managers are not talking to each other, which results in stovepipes along organizational or functional lines. Government and industry are not communicating effectively, resulting in suboptimum outcomes and, often, yesterday’s solution. Do you remember the “Myth Busting Campaign” that Dan Gordon set up when he was administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy? That was all about separating the real obstacles to effective procurements from those imagined by the legal and other communities. The GAO report separates some of that fact from fiction.

Link Warfighters to Technologists at the Lowest Possible Level

April 1, 2013
By Lt. Ben Kohlmann, USN

As conflicts become more complex and uncertain in the 21st century, quick pivots to new technologies will become increasingly important. The starting point for this rapid fielding must begin with more frequent, and more relational, lower level warfighter-technologist interaction.

The current system does this nominally, but the relationships usually are far removed from the waterfront or the front lines where many user-generated solutions could be discovered. Science advisers, often from places such as the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory or the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), are stationed regularly at critical commands throughout the services. They provide a useful link between incredibly intelligent technologists and seasoned veterans.

Unfortunately, many of the interactions are only with senior officers and not the muddy boot or deckplate warriors who know best what is giving them day-to-day headaches. Additionally, many of the officers dedicated to acquisition programs are years removed from being actual operators. With the accelerating pace of technological change, even a year away from operational status can leave noticeable knowledge gaps.

Experience certainly is valuable, but after spending a long period of time in the same profession, a person’s creativity sometimes is lost. Even known innovators can get stuck in ruts when not exposed to different views of the world over sustained periods of time. Furthermore, as technology evolves, the quickest adopters usually are the younger generations. They often have better insights into how to integrate emerging, generationally ubiquitous trends to their professions than do their seniors who relied on legacy systems.

Budgetary Concerns
 Dominate
 Pacific Pivot

April 1, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman

Declining defense funds and the rise of China may hinder strategic rebalancing efforts.

Whatever the threat; wherever the conflict; whatever the mission; the future U.S. military largely will be defined by forced budget constraints. The ongoing fiscal crisis, haunted by the twin specters of sequestration and continuing resolution, will have a greater say in shaping the future force than either adversaries or advances in weapon technologies.

Even resolution of the thorniest sequestration issues would not change the overall trend of declining financial resources for the defense community. The effects of budget cuts could be severe and might prevent forces from carrying out their missions. In terms of materiel, acquisitions will be slowed and new program starts largely could disappear. Operation and maintenance will be reduced, deployments will be cut back and support resources will be reduced—all as the United States rebalances its strategic emphasis toward the Asia-Pacific region.

These were among the lead topics discussed at West 2013, the annual conference and exposition hosted by AFCEA and the U.S. Naval Institute January 29-31 in San Diego. While the three-day event had the theme of “Pivot to the Pacific: What Are the Global Implications,” discussions largely focused on the dire consequences of the looming fiscal cliff. Audiences that were aware of the impending budget crisis were surprised by the bluntness of the assessments offered by high-ranking Defense Department civilian and military leaders.

One stark assessment came from the event’s first speaker, Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., USN, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Speaking to a packed house at a morning keynote address, Adm. Winnefeld described the looming financial crisis as a “wolf,” adding that it is becoming “increasingly apparent that this wolf is going to catch us.”

DISA Lays Groundwork for Commercial Cloud Computing Contract

March 26, 2013
By Max Cacas

One of the U.S. Defense Department’s top information technology officials says work is beginning on a multiaward contract for commercial cloud computing services, but the official says he has no timeline or total value for the business.

Guest Blog: Budget Impact on Developing COTS Systems

March 25, 2013
By Michael Carter

The current driving force in the military and defense environment is to keep legacy systems operating longer, or the replacement of legacy systems with new systems that emulate one or more legacy systems with commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technology. However, there is insufficient budget to fund development of these COTS systems, and the burden of development falls upon private industry. The current sequestration environment adds another burden on industry to perform to the needs of the military, but without the benefit of nonrecurring engineering (NRE) costs being reimbursed. Programs although already funded (but not the NRE, as it is not initially funded) are being put on hold, cancelled, or are in a state of non-deterministic outcome.

Military and defense program managers and private industry face an uphill battle to find the intersection of needs, available resources and the expenditure of development costs. Small companies are at a distinct disadvantage when they develop technology to support the replacement of legacy systems when they are forced to use their own development resources without compensation and are not awarded a contract for production.

Whether a fixed-price, cost-plus, or IDIQ contract, the above scenario is increasingly commonplace in the face of budget constraints and sequestration. The burden on small companies doesn’t stop there; military program managers are also demanding engineering support without compensation for engineering-sustaining efforts, again without the presence of a production contract.

Although many systems are characterized as COTS, there are demands on the developer to perform military environment qualification testing, again without funding and no guarantee of a production contract.

University Fills Procurement Education Gap

March 14, 2013

Old Dominion University (ODU) now offers a graduate-level procurement program that focuses on how to support cost savings, improve efficiencies and determine other strategic goals for public-sector organizations.

 

Tap Into New AFCEA Online Resources

March 15, 2013

To help keep global security professionals abreast of business opportunities and changes in the government acquisition landscape, AFCEA International has gathered information about these topics in a new section of the AFCEA website. Called AFCEA Corporate Member Resources, the page features new content about military and government organizations as it becomes available.

The Budget Is Dominating the Dialogue--Especially That of the Security Community

March 1, 2013
by Kent R. Schneider

Anyone who has attended an AFCEA conference in the past two months has heard the constant drumbeat from senior government leadership on the limitations on operations and readiness likely to occur in defense, intelligence and homeland security. At the AFCEA/USNI West 2013 Conference in San Diego January 29-31, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told a packed audience that the U.S. Defense Department did not know how much money it would receive, when it would receive it or what the restrictions on its use would be.

While we are getting a similar message from defense, intelligence and homeland security leaders, the most concise statement of the problem comes from Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Ashton Carter. In a January 10 memorandum, “Handling Budgetary Uncertainty in Fiscal Year 2013,” Carter points out that the department faces two elements of economic uncertainty in this fiscal year. First, the department, as are all U.S. federal agencies, is operating under a continuing resolution (CR) that expires March 27. While the Defense Department is working with Congress to get appropriations bills, the possibility exists that it will operate under a CR for the remainder of the fiscal year.

Under a CR, the department is limited to prior-year funding levels, and there can be no new starts. In addition, transfer of funds among categories is very limited. Second, Congress deferred potential sequestration under the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 from January 2, 2013, to March 1. If sequestration does occur this late in the year, the approximately $46 billion in reductions would occur in a very concentrated period. Remember too that the reductions under sequestration have few exceptions and must be applied across all program elements.

Inexpensive Solutions Emerge for the Modern Battlefield

March 1, 2013
By Lt. Ben Kohlmann, USN

The defining images of the opening stages of the 2001 Afghanistan invasion were of bearded U.S. Special Operations forces on horseback talking with invisible air assets high overhead. Ancient transportation technology melded with cutting-edge communication protocols created an odd but appropriate scenario in the midst of a wholly unanticipated conflict. The synergy of high- and low-capability technologies likely will define 21st century conflicts, especially with foes we cannot currently imagine.

As our official defense posture pivots to the Pacific, this strategic imperative calls for specific procurement decisions and military kit. Yet, what if we are wrong? Does the greatest threat to our national security truly come from Asia? What if in preparing for a low-probability, high-cost conflict, we end up facing an enemy who intentionally and subtly maneuvers around our complex systems?

It seems more than coincidental that our perceived threats also mesh with status quo, high-cost technological solutions. Intentionally or not, we are preparing to fight only the types of wars we currently are best suited to fight. Our military is built on emphasizing the physical aspect of warfare, especially when it comes to fielding advanced technology.

However, pouring precious time and scarce resources into incredibly complex, expensive technology, inhibits our ability to buy capabilities more suited to higher-probability, low-intensity, prolonged conflicts. These more difficult challenges, like rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan, are not going away, even if we hope they will.

The argument for high-cost, high-complexity weapons systems in all circumstances claims that by countering the most capable threat, these systems necessarily will be suitable for every contingency. They can be “degraded” with equal effectiveness for a lower-intensity conflict. This, however, is simply not always the case.

The Bottom Line: Fewer Conferences? So What?

February 15, 2013
By Maryann Lawlor

The cancellation of several military and government conferences is among the latest collateral damage of financial belt-tightening and looming additional defense budget cuts. But the real question is, “So what?” Read that question carefully. It does not mean, “What does it matter?” but rather “What do global security professionals do now to develop effective networks with the business sector?”

And, those are only two of the important questions raised by the reduction in the number of conferences during a time when cutting costs is crucial. Among the others are:

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