It’s time for the Pentagon to prioritize short-term acquisition fixes over systemic change – Breaking Defense Breaking Defense


Since Ellen Lord left the Pentagon in January, no A&S official has been confirmed. (DVIDS)

When Ellen Lord left the Pentagon in January, she left many major acquisition issues to her predecessor. But this predecessor did not appear. After a aborted appointment of Mike Brown For this role, the Biden administration has yet to nominate anyone for the key acquisition and sustainment position. As a result, according to former Pentagon official Jeff Bialos, it is time to take a new approach to carrying out procurement reform in the building.

With the Pentagon virtually guaranteed to go more than a full year without a confirmed Undersecretary for Acquisitions and Sustainment (A&S), it’s time for the Defense Department to consider reducing the bait for another round. brilliant new acquisition reforms. The new A&S, with less than three years at the helm, should adopt a policy of “triage” of acquisitions and focus on producing specific acquisition results that can meet our national security needs within a reasonable timeframe – as quickly as possible -.

Congress and the DoD have attempted all manner of systemic reforms in recent years to address long-standing challenges of speed, cost, and performance of defense programs, including: encouraging the use of more flexible contractual arrangements and collaborative approaches (like other transactional authorities and consortia); encourage faster and faster prototypes to stimulate innovation; building pilot projects like the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) to build bridges to Silicon Valley and remove barriers to entry; changing the incentives facing DoD procurement frameworks; and implementing an adaptive procurement framework and, again, rewriting the 5000 series of regulations.

The reality, however, is that most of these efforts at institutional reform or reform by example have either failed or have produced only useful acquisition results at the margins so far – which have not. advance the needle on the overall systemic gaps. While it is widely believed that more defense innovations have been launched in recent years, it remains uncertain whether any of them have been or will be deployed or will make a difference. And in some cases, it is not yet known whether these efforts will bear fruit.

So rather than adding to this list and enacting another administration’s new acquisition reforms that will take years to bear fruit, it is essential that the new DoD acquisition team look to the challenges. realign our acquisition results with our national security needs and achieve acquisition accountability through improved system results as early as possible – and do this hand in hand with military services to ” avoid the creation of partitions.

Ensure acquisition programs are aligned with threat and capability based priorities. While some of these efforts are underway, it is important to conduct a high-level review, in collaboration with joint and service leaders, of the order of battle against high-intensity threats from close competitors (China , Russia and others) as well as the range of low-intensity threats encountered in recent years, from terrorism and insurgency to humanitarian aid and stabilization. While there is a broad consensus on the need to step up our ‘proximity’ game and that some of our less intense efforts (i.e. we have the appropriate capabilities across this spectrum) flourish. While we need to deter and defending against high intensity engagements, we are still likely to encounter in practice a range of low intensity threats in the years to come. Against this background, we need to assess ‘alignment’ – whether our acquisition programs existing systems are aligned with our national security needs – and make the necessary adjustments.

Initiate accountability reviews to address key performance issues specific to programs and entrepreneurs. The future A&S manager should conduct a focused review of major procurement programs to resolve serious performance issues (cost, time, and technical performance) and determine whether to redesign some programs to ACAT 1 (d) programs. appropriate. Separately, the A&S should, as it has occasionally done in the past, conduct a quarterly review of selected programs of major defense contractors to identify contractor-specific issues that cut across the programs. Responsibility should be at the center not only of DoD, but also of our community of entrepreneurs.

Conduct a DoD-level corporate review of the status of major investments in selected critical technology areas to assess whether they should be “pulled” into new or existing registration programs. Not a day goes by that we don’t hear that we are late, that we have experienced an “almost Sputnik” moment, or that we lose our advantage in technologies like artificial intelligence or hypersonics. Therefore, it is high time that the department assesses with disciplined, company-wide measures (i.e. technologies, including their levels of technological maturity; whether they are ripe for insertion into programs of registration; and what steps should be taken to develop, exploit and further integrate these technologies into the force (including eliminating duplication and overlap between programs, combining efforts where appropriate, etc.). legitimate reasons not to integrate these technologies into current programs or short-term field capacities, the reality is that it is important to have senior officials – who do not have to deal with the budgets of the programs, timelines and other parameters for short-term thinking – to review and make high-level judgments to get such technologies, where warranted, through the go The proverbial alley of death.

Examine efforts to integrate business innovation into DoD. From DIUs to consortia to increased use of OTAs, there have been many efforts to ingest and inject new and emerging commercial technologies into the DoD ecosystem. Now is the time to assess the state of these efforts, determine whether they are sustainable and useful, and invest properly in the future. The review is expected to address whether these innovation efforts are hampered by the increasing use of traditional FAR arrangements in OTAs and the limitations of funding available on prototypes.

Improve international collaboration with close allies. One of the hallmarks of America’s post-Cold War defense strategy has been our willingness to work closely with our allies and embed foreign innovation into the force. Unfortunately, one of the side effects of the recent emphasis on peer competition is that we have tended to create greater barriers to accessing such innovation from abroad. We therefore need to identify ways to work more closely on concrete programs and investment opportunities with allies to bring promising new foreign technologies and capabilities into US strength and the innovation and affordability that such capabilities can bring. . The broader DoD is expected to move beyond the paltry level of effort of recent years and support additional cooperative programs and initiatives through service labs, DARPA and other elements of the DoD with the Kingdom. United, Japan, Israel and other close allies.

Certainly, other essential tasks are needed to improve our defense procurement results, including modernizing the Defense Production Act to deal with military contingencies, pandemics and other crises of the 21st century and a new consideration of other means of ensuring a strong and competitive defense industrial base to meet our national security needs. All of these steps require DoD’s deeper engagement with industry to drive change.

In summary, with these types of hands-on metrics, it’s possible that the new leadership in DoD acquisition can shake things up and produce acquisition results that can make a difference in real time. Leadership of the department on a ‘non-interim’ basis and the clear direction it can generate is vitally important in this area – not to dictate, but to learn and share across the responsible company. of our national defense.

Jeff Bialos is an associate based in Washington, DC. in Eversheds-Sutherland LLP, a global law firm. Bialos was the Assistant Under Secretary of Defense for Industrial Affairs during the Clinton administration.

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