Army wants cyber contract times to decrease with acquisition revamp

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The Army’s cyber acquisitions run at a snail’s pace compared to how quickly technology changes, but the service is trying to change that as it embarks on the biggest reorganization of its procurement office since the Vietnam era.

The military already established how crucial the cyber realm is to modern warfare. It convinced Congress to elevate U.S. Cyber Command to a full combatant command, it considers cyber one of the five domains of battle and the Army finished its mandate to hire nearly 20,000 cyber mission forces before the 2018 deadline.

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But the Army’s buying process is the one thing still holding the service  back in cyber.

“In the world of information technology, the spin cycle, if you will, more or less is generally agreed to be about 18 months. In more or less 18 months there are enough changes to software, and in some cases hardware. That spin cycle is much, much faster than the Department of Defense or the Department of the Army’s acquisition cycle,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told reporters Nov. 7 at the  2017 International Cyber Conflict Conference in Washington. “When we identify a need in the information technology area, because of the systems and processes we use it will be years before we see the actual solution. By the time we get the solution, the solution itself will be out of date.”

That’s a problem when DoD is constantly fighting off cyber threats and trying to stay up to speed with its adversaries online.

The Army is hoping its new acquisition modernization effort can make the tech buying process easier in the future.

“The whole purpose behind Modernization Systems Command and all the acquisition reforms is to rapidly and radically speed up the acquisition of capabilities, not just information, but all the capabilities as well, at a much, much faster rate,” Milley said.

Milley said getting down to the 18-month cycle is an ambitious goal, but he believes the Army can get to a lower acquisition turnaround time.

The Army plans to do that through a number of contracting vehicles. It is currently fleshing out the process, but plans to have the new acquisition plan at full operating capability by the summer of 2018.

The Army’s push for acquisition speed is not only for cyber. The service wants to procure faster in all realms.

To do that Army officials said they want soldiers to be involved in the acquisition process from beginning to end, the theory being that previous efforts have asked for feedback from end users far too late in the acquisition process, prompting changes that are difficult and expensive to make once a system has progressed too far into its development lifecycle.

“With a few exceptions, what we have is essentially a linear process — going from an idea, writing up a big requirements document and then vetting it through multiple steps — it takes years, and it’s just not going to be effective going into the future,” Milley said last month. “So we’re going to re-engineer the corporation.”

Lt. Gen. Edward Cardon, the director of the Office of Business Transformation, is leading a task force to look at the current Army modernization bureaucracy and will return with final recommendations on how to structure the new modernization command. The recommendations are due early next year.

At the end of the process, the Army wants to have all of the organizations that currently have a hand in developing and fielding new capabilities under “one roof,” said Ryan McCarthy, the acting secretary of the Army.

“We want to enable rapid prototyping, accept failure early, insert the end-user early in the process and keep them engaged throughout,” he said.

DoD as a whole is trying to cut back on its contracting time as well.

Defense Undersecretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Ellen Lord said she wants DoD to take advantage of new authorities to cut contracting time by 50 percent.

“Other transaction authorities, I think we see the Air Force doing a nice job with some of those and, frankly, we don’t have all of our staff that are totally cognizant of what those authorities are and what we can do and what we can’t do. What we are trying to do is develop an environment where people are comfortable saying ‘Hey, what if?’ and I’m trying to say ‘Yes, if’ versus ‘No’ to things,” Lord said in October.

She added that DoD has created a risk averse culture because it makes such a public exhibition of programs that stumbled. Lord said she wants stumbling to happen earlier in the acquisition cycle where it is less costly.

The initiative is a small bite into the larger reorganization of the acquisition office mandated by Congress in last year’s defense authorization act.

Another aspect of cutting contract time involves simplifying the acquisition process. Lord said Congress has been cooperative with DoD about peeling back some regulations that do not make sense to the department, but would not go into specifics as to which areas were discussed.

“I’m extremely encouraged by what I see and I think these [defense authorization acts] have gotten long and long and more directive because perhaps we haven’t been responding in the way we could within the building. One of the major objectives I have is to clear some of that out,” Lord said.