Obsolete Acquisition Policies Threaten U.S. Technological Superiority

August 6, 2014
By Robert K. Ackerman
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The old rules are ill-suited for the new modes of innovation.

Major changes in defense acquisition no longer are desirable—they are essential if the United States is to maintain an effective military in a time of increasing threats and decreasing resources. Already the United States is trailing several allies technologically, and potential adversaries are hard at work developing technologies that threaten U.S. force superiority. Patterns of technology development have changed, but sclerotic acquisition practices work counter to efforts to reap the benefits of innovation.

Dr. Jacques S. Gansler, director, Center for Public Policy and Private Enterprise, University of Maryland, offered a prescription for acquisition change to the Tuesday luncheon audience at AFCEA’s Defense Acquisition Modernization Symposium 2014. Gansler called for changes in both acquisition procedures and priorities.

Gansler describes this time as a critical period, similar to the launch of Sputnik or the fall of the Berlin Wall. While one raised an alarm and the other signaled the end of the Cold War, both represented watershed events leading to great change. Gansler described long-term trends that have led to unusual circumstances today. For example, unlike in previous buildups, the United States continued cutting the acquisition work force even though defense spending rose after 9/11.

With a shrinking industrial base, weapons and information systems are increasing in complexity. Government research investments have been outpaced by industry since the 1980s, and now industry spends twice as much as government. Both the commercial and the global industry are moving ahead of the Defense Department, and the department is becoming less influential. Gansler charged that current acquisition trends definitely are going in the wrong direction.

Now, the country must accommodate changes into the acquisition process. For example, the United States must remove policy barriers to globalization in defense. Gansler noted that France is well ahead of the United States in night vision devices, because it adopted new processes that moved innovation into the field faster. When the United States needed a vehicle that could withstand attacks from improvised explosive devices, it turned to Israel—which had the world’s best armor—for help in setting up a factory in the United States to build the mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles. The shock absorbers on that vehicle are German, and the tires are French, Gansler added.

“We’ve gotten too comfortable with some practices,” he stated. “Now we need change.

Gansler also said that system cost should be an engineering requirement and a service requirement. Both acquisition and lifecycle costs should be factored into a program, and spiral development should be used for both hardware and software. A performance-based logistics approach is both less expensive and better, and the government should take advantage of public-private partnerships.

“It will require leadership across government,” he continued, adding that overcoming the resistance to change will require vision, a strategy and an action plan. The right answer is not more regulations, he said, noting, “We have 180,000 pages of government regulations today.”

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The following break out session provided a more detailed set of recommendations by the IT-Acquisition Advisory Council (IT-AAC) who just published their Report to Congress. Five recommendations were made;
1) Reinforce the Rule of Law: direct DOD to implement; Clinger Cohen Act, NDAA Sec804, OMB 25 Point Plan and Key Provisions in FITARA. GAO oversight may be needed to overcome not-invented-here thinking.
2) Clarify Lines of Authority: Realign DoD CIO and CMO functions as suggested in NDAA Sec 901; align accountability and incentives that drive mission outcomes versus process compliance.
3) Embrace Agile IT Acquisition: Direct OSD to adopt a suite of existing agile frameworks (versus modification of legacy DoD5000 processes) that have already proven to meet challenges of the fast paced IT market (i.e., AF ASAP, BTA’s Capability Assessment Framework, Acquisition Assurance Method). Again, GAO or CRS oversight may be needed.
4) Remove Innovation Barriers: Reestablish the Technology Clearinghouse created in 2000 and redirected in 2007 NDAA that exposes emerging commercial innovations, implementation best practices and lessons learned (CCA directives).
5) Revitalize IT Acquisition Workforce: Train, mentor and equip the IT Acquisition Workforce by leveraging public/private partnerships and NGOs with proven access to commercial best practices.

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