DoD ready to further define and expand fast moving procurement vehicles

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The Defense Department’s acquisition office is planning on utilizing and further defining two expanded authorities focused on speed in the next few months.

DoD’s will release detailed policy early next year on “middle tier” acquisition — an authority given to the Pentagon in the 2016 defense authorization act, said Ellen Lord, DoD undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment.

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Middle tier acquisition is an interim approach that focuses on delivering products in two to five years. It allows DoD to work outside traditional acquisition regulation if the program abides by certain criteria. The acquisition vehicle must use rapid prototyping or rapid fielding to deliver innovative technology and products that meet emerging military needs.

“We want people to get out and use these authorities, not to be scared of them and be very creatively compliant,” Lord said during a speech Thursday at the Naval Submarine League Symposium in Arlington, Virginia.

In April, DoD released a two page memo on middle tier acquisition to give the services a general idea of how to use the authority.

“Instead of studying it and studying it and studying it and writing a thick policy … we said to the services, ‘We want you to go and try and use this as much as you can, and as we go along we will begin to better define what sort of guardrails are on it,” Lord said.

The services decided to give it a try. The Air Force is using the process for its Light Attack Aircraft procurement and put out its guidance on middle tier acquisition in June. The Navy released its guidance in April and the Army in September.

Now DoD is ready to take off the training wheels and give the services a better roadmap for how the authority can be used and for what.

The acquisition vehicle is all part of DoD and Congress’ push to quicken the Pentagon’s acquisition cycle, encourage it to fail fast and to build more prototypes. The department hopes that mindset will allow it to be more experimental and bring in new technologies to stay ahead of near peer competitors.

OTAs

Along with turkey and cranberry sauce, a handbook on other transaction authorities (OTAs) might show up on the dining room table this month.

Lord said around Thanksgiving, DoD plans to release its handbook on the controversial procurement agreements.

“OTAs are used when you’re really experimenting and prototyping a little bit to find out exactly what the art of the possible is,” Lord said.

DoD will train its Defense Acquisition University students around the handbook, Lord said.

OTAs have been the hot topic in contracting lately because they allow DoD to completely circumvent federal acquisition regulations.

While that allows DoD and companies to move quickly, it also causes issues around transparency and accountability.

Training

Over the past five years, DoD gained a host of new authorities that allow it to move procurement and expand its industrial base.

However, Lord said those authorities don’t mean anything unless acquisition professionals utilize them and are educated on them.

DoD is currently building a cheat sheet notebook for acquisition professionals, so they know what procurement options are available to them.

“Frankly, we just hadn’t been taking advantage of things,” Lord said. “We’ve been in a somewhat risk averse culture because, face it, something goes wrong it’s going to be in the media. It’s going to be on the Hill, there’s going to be a hearing. What I see as my job is to make sure we educate that workforce about all of our acquisition authorities, all of the different contract types we have, to be able to apply them in the correct way to do things quickly in the most cost effective way.”

Lord said her office also plans to create quick learning modules that are about two to four hours long to teach acquisition professionals. Those modules will cover things like standard cybersecurity clauses in contracts.