Army Technology Acquisition Stumbles Despite Best Efforts

December 13, 2012
By Robert K. Ackerman
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NIE efforts do not pan out as expected; neither do some other rapid procurement approaches.

The U.S. Army’s Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) events are not working as well as anticipated in moving new technologies into the force, say two Army officials. This lack of success is accompanied by drawbacks in rapid acquisition strategies that may lead to a change in traditional acquisition approaches for communications and information systems.

Bryon Young, executive director, Army Contracting Command - Aberdeen Proving Ground, explains that the NIE process creates problems by attaining some of its goals.

“The department has struggled with making NIE a success,” Young says. “We’ve had a lot of NIEs, and we’ve had very few acquisitions as a result of NIE.”

Young continues that the acquisition center and the Department of the Army have examined the requirements needed to perform an NIE capability evaluation. When the Army decides to buy a capability after a long set of testing, the service then discovers that it never solicited for the system and it never established selection criteria.

So, the Army has this strategy: “Before you have an NIE, you [the customer] need to advertise what your requirements are. You need to tell industry that the only way you are going to buy something—if it meets the criteria established in a test—is that you’re going to buy it through the NIE process.” Then, the down-select can be forced early, and a winning technology or system can be bought.

Unfortunately, that process has not been followed very often. When good technologies are found in an NIE, the Army struggles to determine how to buy them after the fact, Young states.

Lt. Gen. William N. Phillips, USA, director, Army Acquisition Corps, echoes Young’s concerns about NIE. “We have to improve [NIE]. We haven’t done well enough on this end.

“We are trying to get more out in front of what the Army truly needs—an identification of the gaps so that we can use the NIE if we have to as a source selection,” the general offers. “[We would] advertise up front that we have a need for this capability, rather than a ‘come one, come all; if you want to bring your items out, we’ll take them to the lab, if they pass the lab we’ll get them to White Sands.’

“We want to use [NIE] as a source selection,” the general continues. “Right now, we’re doing that at the end, which isn’t productive for industry, and it isn’t productive for us.”

Gen. Phillips adds that, with regard to network support items such as routers, the NIE has done “some amazing things” to determine what is best for procurement.

Overall, recent Army acquisition efforts have led to mixed results that may send the Army back to the drawing board in terms of procuring information technologies. Young notes that the push to bypass normal procedures and speed new technologies to the force has not worked out as well as intended.

“We are not buying things effectively when we do it as fast as we’ve done,” he says.

“We are still at war; we’re still supporting overseas forces, so we owe some level of fealty to the past practices that we’ve established. However, if your focus is solely on speed, then you are focusing on the wrong thing,” Young states. “I’m persuaded that we need to do things at an appropriate and deliberate speed, but I’m not persuaded that we need to do things the way we did in the past.”

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