DoD’s proposals aim to simplify ‘mindboggling’ acquisition rules

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The Defense Department submitted seven legislative proposals to Capitol Hill Wednesday to simplify its acquisition process.

But just don’t call them reforms, they are improvements, said Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

Kendall told the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday that reforms imply there is some big change, or some big initiative that can fix the acquisition system. But that is just not the case with these proposals.

“What we have to do is attack our problems on many fronts and make incremental progress on many fronts, learn from our experience and then adopt new things as we understand the impact of the things we’ve done,” Kendall said. “And that’s why we’ve emphasized a continuous process improvement approach in the Better Buying Initiatives over the last several years. I think that is the right approach. I think we will make incremental progress on a lot of fronts and in the aggregate, I think it will make a big difference.”

He said the incremental approach will let DoD, and Congress for that matter, improve upon many of the acquisition challenges the military faces.

“At the end of the day, a great deal of it is about not putting rules in place to constrain people, but getting people in a position where they can make better decisions and do the right thing, and then have the institutional support to execute the right thing and do it successfully,” Kendall said.

DoD is not in favor of another big reform bill such as the Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009. Instead, officials say they need process improvements and Congress can help by removing some of the more arduous requirements from the books.

Precious asset: time

The first salvo in that effort is the seven legislative proposals the Pentagon sent to Congress ahead of the 2016 budget request, which is due out Feb. 2.

Kendall said the ultimate goal is to simplify the life of DoD program managers.

“We want to give them more comprehensive and coherent [rules]. We get rid of a couple of documents that we are asked to do that really have low utility to anyone, but we are forced to do them. We clarify the rules of milestone decision authorities. We simplify the rules for lifecycle support programs, X-strategies,” he said. “It’s very inside baseball if you read them. It’s all about the detailed rules our program managers have to follow. What motivated me to do this, when we redid 5000.02, our DoD instruction on acquisition, there’s an enclosure — it’s enclosure one, I think — which has table after table after table of all the rules people have to follow and all the different types of programs and what rules apply to what types of different programs. The complexity of that was mindboggling to me. So we really have to simplify this.”

Kendall said the legislative changes, if approved by Congress, would let DoD modify the 5000.02 document it recently updated.

He added that these changes in the end would give back to program managers their most precious asset: time.

DoD didn’t make the specific proposals available to the press nor did Kendall offer too many specific details on them at the hearing.

But a DoD official, speaking on background, offered more details about the proposals.

The official said Kendall put together a team about a year ago to look at hardware systems, large technology platforms and IT intensive business systems. The group tried to figure out from the program managers which documentation requirements or processes are redundant.

The official said the goal is to let program managers tailor their efforts, have more flexibility in the processes and remove unneeded documentation.

The official said one example that turned into a proposal to eliminate a document that deals with estimates of manpower costs for large programs. This working group realized that programs had to create a separate document, while also putting that same information into the cost estimation process. So having a standalone document isn’t necessary anymore, the official said.

The official also said DoD wants to have a standard language to describe risk and a broader set of statutory language that program managers should consider.

Lots of ideas kicking around

House Armed Services Committee lawmakers didn’t react to DoD’s legislative proposals other than to say they were glad the Pentagon sent it up ahead of the budget request.

The committee also has been working on ideas to reform or improve DoD acquisition for the better part of the year, and Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said improving the acquisition process at DoD is a top priority of his committee.

Thornberry said at the hearing that he hopes DoD’s submission of ideas or changes becomes a regular occurrence. He said it’s a sign from DoD that it wants to cooperate on this challenge.

“The point I keep emphasizing is we are going to stay after it. It’s not a one- shot deal. We’re going to keep after it, after it and after because we have to do better,” Thornberry said. “I think the point of his proposal is to thin out and simplify regulations. That is a good element that we can make progress on. We will not get regulations perfectly, but we can make progress on right from the beginning. We are kicking around some ideas of our own. Industry has provided proposals, I’m sure you’ve seen those. So we’ve got a lot to work with.”

He added he’d like to get the first set of proposals from the committee’s review effort out in March, and get comments back in time for the beginning of the discussion to create the 2016 Defense authorization bill in May.

In addition to these legislative proposals, Kendall also is rolling out other acquisition improvement plans.

One of those new initiatives is the creation of a new office to take on business systems modernization.

Kendall said the idea is to create a center of excellence for business systems modernization efforts.

“This is an idea that I’ve been working for a while and working with the Defense Logistics Agency,” he said. “What we did a few years ago is take a lot of our existing business systems and put the support for those legacy systems at DLA. DLA had a bad start, but recovered and built up the ability to build an enterprise resource planning [ERP], one of our standard business systems. So the idea is DLA would provide a center of excellence that the rest of the services could use to assist them as they do business systems. That’s the concept and we still are in the formative stages.”

Congress split the oversight and responsibility for business systems between Kendall’s office, ATL, which handles the acquisition piece, and the DoD deputy chief management officer, which handles the requirements definition.

He said the cooperation has been good, but there is some confusion over the split responsibility and one of the legislative proposals asks Congress to clarify which office ultimately is in charge.

Congress in this year’s Defense authorization bill merged the DCMO and chief information officer into a new Senate-confirmed position, the Undersecretary of Defense for Business Management and Information that is scheduled to take effect in Feb. 1, 2017.

It’s unclear what the legislative proposal would call for, and how the merged CIO/DCMO position would factor into it.

BBP 3.0 coming soon

The center of excellence also would help DoD move to a more flexible model around business system improvements. Kendall said too often DoD’s approach is rigid and that’s the cause of some of its problems.

Kendall said DoD is trying to ensure every service and component learns from past mistakes and uses best practices when developing and implementing business systems.

This is something DoD has struggled with for some time whether it was the $1 billion failure known as DIHMRS or the Army’s problems over the last few years with its ERP system.

Kendall also outlined several other acquisition related priorities.

He said the final version of Better Buying Power 3.0 will come out in the coming weeks. It shifts DoD’s focus to technology superiority challenges from just buying more intelligently.

Related to Better Buying Power 3.0 is a new aerospace innovation initiative which DoD will detail in the budget request.

Kendall offered a bit of a preview of what the Pentagon’s plans are for this new program.

“What it will be is a program initially led by the Defense Advanced Projects Research Activity (DARPA) but it will involve the Navy and the Air Force as well. The intent is to develop prototypes for the next generation air dominance platforms, X-plane programs, if you will,” he said. “To be competitive, the Navy and the Air Force will each have a variant that is focused on their mission requirements. There will be a technology period leading up to the development of the prototypes. We will do the upfront work to make sure we are doing the right thing. But then it will reduce the lead time to having the next generation capabilities. This will lead to the systems that will ultimately come after the F-35, essentially.”

Kendall said the aerospace innovation initiative falls under the broader innovation initiative that Secretary Chuck Hagel announced last fall. That strategy looks at business processes, operational concepts and how DoD trains its workforce.


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