Information Technology Patterns May Guide Army Acquisition Reform

July 2010
By Robert K. Ackerman, SIGNAL Magazine
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A mine resistant ambush protected vehicle, or MRAP, is equipped with a stronger suspension to handle the rugged terrain of Afghanistan. The speed with which the MRAP was developed and deployed offers opportunities as well as challenges as the Army prepares to review its acquisition process.

Taking a total-picture outlook is the first step to framing a new approach.

The U.S. Army is launching a new acquisition review aimed at a complete overhaul of organization, policies, work force and processes. Instead of focusing on individual characteristics of acquisition processes, this review is examining the full range of acquisition activities from rapid deployment to the warfighter to congressional rules and regulations. It will tap expertise from across the spectrum of the government and military acquisition professionals.

One of the key factors that will be considered is the need to move information technology advances rapidly to the force. The Army has adopted new and, in some cases, ad hoc measures that bypassed traditional acquisition steps to ensure that warfighters in Southwest Asia are receiving the best technologies available. The new acquisition review will examine those measures to determine which efforts can be applied to Army acquisition as a whole. Similarly, the review will examine how to establish a formal methodology to ensure rapid implementation of technology advances in that dynamic field.

The review is being conducted by a panel chaired by two men: Gil Decker, former assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology; and Gen. Lou Wagner, USA (Ret.), former Army deputy chief of staff for research, development and acquisition and onetime head of the Army Materiel Command. These two co-chairs are assembling a panel comprising experts from civilian government, active duty military and the private sector.

This review represents an opportunity to take advantage of outside expertise that is familiar with Army acquisition processes, according to Lt. Gen. William N. Phillips, USA, military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology. The panel will present a report in the next six months that Gen. Phillips says will be “a blueprint for improvement that we’ll put into place over the next couple of years.”

Gen. Phillips emphasizes that the holistic nature of this review may be its greatest asset. By examining Army acquisition in the scope of its processes, procedures, and rules and regulations, the review should provide the means to revamp acquisition to provide warfighters with better capabilities faster and less expensively.

“It’s not just the Army,” Gen. Phillips says. “We need to take a holistic look at the laws, some of the things where we’ve had successes and some of the programs where we’ve had challenges—so we can learn from them and incorporate the appropriate changes into future acquisition strategies.

“In this holistic look, we also want to look at requirements and how they’re generated; we want to look at resourcing strategies; and we want to look at our external relationships and the oversight that we receive, in particular on major acquisition programs,” he continues.

The general notes that this examination will be conducted in partnership with non-Army organizations such as Congress and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Decker and Gen. Wagner are selecting the review team members, and Gen. Phillips emphasizes that the Army is not dictating to the two co-chairs who should be on the team. However, the service will assist them in garnering the appropriate skills and expertise to ensure that the study is thorough.

This review builds on the findings of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review and of the October 2007 Gansler Commission Report on Army Acquisition and Program Management in Expeditionary Operations. That report declared that “acquisition failures in expeditionary operations urgently require a systemic fix of Army contracting.”

The Gansler Commission Report found that several critical Army segments had not adapted sufficiently to allow responsive acquisition and sustainment for expeditionary operations. These segments were financial management; civilian and military personnel; contracting and contract management; training and education; and doctrine, regulations and processes. According to that report, “These key failures encumber the Army acquisition system’s performance and have significantly contributed to the waste, fraud and abuse in theater by Army personnel.”

Gen. Phillips offers that the Gansler Commission’s recommendations are being adopted with great success. They have been addressed completely, and Army leadership wants to extend that report’s approach across all of Army acquisition.

The new acquisition review, which was chartered by Secretary of the Army John McHugh, aims at going further than the Gansler report, including building on the 2009 implementation of the Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act. The secretary is calling for “an agile acquisition system that rapidly develops, purchases and fields innovative solutions for our soldiers without breaking our commitment to be good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars,” the general reports.

Having an agile acquisition system is essential, Gen. Phillips continues. This system must be more flexible, adaptive and innovative to support the warfighter. Achieving that goal can be accomplished only through this new broad-based approach to acquisition review.

“I can’t recall a study for Army acquisition that has been chartered in this way to look holistically at Army acquisition over an extended period of time and to provide a blueprint for improvements,” the general says of the new review.

The review aims to define how to reduce lifecycle, reduce program cost, improve efficiencies and work better with Congress, including bringing about changes in internal congressional actions that lead to better processes within acquisition, Gen. Phillips says. These measures would constitute a path of continuous improvement.

Information technology is one area where acquisition reform is virtually a requisite for a future modernized Army. Recent successes in rapid implementation of information technology advances will provide valuable lessons learned to the new review.

“One of the opportunities that we have is to leverage rapid acquisition,” Gen. Phillips states, continuing “In no other place have we done that more effectively than in information technology systems.

“What can we leverage from that for information technology, which has this tremendous change and improvement in technological advancement over just a matter of months? How can we incorporate that into our acquisition processes so that we build the ability to incorporate technology into the systems?” he asks.

The rapid implementation of information technology into Southwest Asia is not a perfect model for acquisition reform, however. In some cases, systems that were rushed into Iraq or Afghanistan proved to be less effective than anticipated, and many languished. Planners had to ensure that ad hoc new systems did not create new stovepipes. And, interoperability concerns began to emerge, including problems of frequency interference.

Gen. Phillips believes that the successes and challenges accrued in this rapid information technology process can be applied to reforming Army acquisition. For example, he suggests that one acquisition approach would be to buy only a limited number of systems rather than the entire Army acquisition objective. Instead, after a limited buy, the Army would wait for the next iteration of improvement to buy the next series of systems. He expects that the Gilbert/Wagner team will examine this approach to help lay the framework for rapid acquisition.

He cites as an example the mine resistant ambush protected vehicle, or MRAP. Many acquisition processes were waived to speed development of that vehicle to warfighters. Because it was not a program of record, MRAP did not need to pass through the many milestone decisions required for traditional programs. However, challenges have emerged because that program was not designed for sustainment. The Army is working through those challenges as a rapid acquisition strategy, he notes.

On the other hand, many programs of record pass through their entire retinue of milestone reviews, but they take years to attain production and delivery. The new acquisition review aims to draw the best aspects of both approaches and incorporate them into acquisition policy, the general says.

Following the presentation of the 120-day review’s report, the Army will establish a plan of action for addressing its findings and recommendations. This will include a thorough look at actions that need to occur along with milestones to achieve them. Over the next two years, the Army should have in place actual measures to improve its acquisition, Gen. Phillips warrants.


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