CDAO sees contracting as a way to build innovation

The Defense Department’s newest office is being billed as a new and innovative way to approach technology and data in the military, but the office’s contrac...

SAN DIEGO – The Defense Department’s newest office is being billed as a new and innovative way to approach technology and data in the military, but the office’s contracting department sees itself as a trailblazer as well.

The chief data and artificial intelligence office (CDAO), which became fully operational this month, is trying to ensure that contracting comes first in how the Defense Department approaches business and not as a forgotten add on.

“Our goal is to remove roadblocks,” Kathrine Crompton, CDAO’s contracting chief, told Federal News Network. “Many times contracting people think contracting is at the end. Sometimes people make the distinction that acquisition and contracting are one in the same. Contracting is an enablement, we are the people who should be able to enable that purchasing power for those goods to be delivered. We’re not acquisition.”

Crompton and Bonnie Evangelista, a procurement analyst for the office, see the CDAO as a way to revolutionize contracting in DoD.

Crompton said she wants her contracting officers to accept risk and she’s going to do that by delegating down and giving power to those officers to make decisions and contract creatively.

CDAO is going to be asking what the end user needs and how deviations and authorities can help fit those needs in a contract.

One way Crompton plans to do that is to change the way contracting officials work with industry. Instead of having companies submit a 100-page proposal or do a technical evaluation, Crompton will allow her employees to hear from business in the form of a video or as an oral presentation.

“Is there a way for us to sit here and talk to them now and have them give us a proposal and we can consider it to be competitive?” she said. “We have done that before we called it a coliseum where in a very short timeframe, we were able to go through hundreds of evaluations and do almost 90 one-on-ones with industry in less than three days and make award decisions which have now transitioned into warfighters hands.”

Evangelista said the CDAO is aware it’s going to get trolls and people who doubt their approach, but there is a real potential to change the game for contracting.

“Sometimes choosing to fail, it’s scary, but maybe it’s a little necessary to enable all the things we want,” she said. “We’re talking about rapid delivery, accelerating, contracting, or accelerating acquisition and stuff like that. These are all things everybody wants, right? So, we should get there.”

CDAO is supposed to be at the forefront of what DoD is doing.

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks noted that there is a massive innovation ecosystem focused on software in the United States and she wants the CDAO to tap into that.

“There’s a real a part of the impetus I had in the CDAO is there’s a power in bringing a vanguard organization with direct reporting relationship to me and to the secretary at the four star level that can push us in these areas,” she said. “They can build on work that’s been underway. We have a number of procurement vehicles already available. I think there’s five that are really focused on expanding our access in DoD to nontraditional companies.”

That means lowering the threshold and time it takes for businesses to work with the Pentagon.

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