Reform panel on track to cut DoD-specific acquisition regs by half

In biweekly meetings, DoD contracting experts are chewing through every page of the Pentagon's procurement rules. They expect to eliminate about half.

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Fourteen months after President Donald Trump ordered all agencies to stand up regulatory reform task forces, the Defense Department is making major progress in weeding out what it views as outdated and unnecessary acquisition rules.

The group of Defense officials charged with examining acquisition rules is one of three subgroups currently operating within DoD as part if its regulatory reform task force. Its particular charge is to undertake an in-depth scrub of the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS), decide what is still relevant, and what is slowing the system down for no good reason.

Panel recommending deep cuts

The review is about midway through, and so far, it is on track to reduce the size of the DFARS by about half. The group is made up of representatives from the military services, plus the Pentagon’s office of Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy.

“This spring cleanup is really looking at the entire DFARS, soup to nuts,” said Brig. Gen. Michael Hoskin, the Army’s director for contracting, and that service’s representative on the task force. “There’s currently 350 clauses and provisions, and we’re biting at 10 to 20 of them every two weeks. We meet for hours every other Friday, and we make decisions to retain, remove or modify. Part of our guidance was go big or go home, and so we’re to the point where we’re recommending the removal or modifying of about 50 percent. It’s to the point where the Deputy Secretary of Defense sent a message down to us, saying, ‘Are you really sure you want to go this far?’”

Hoskin, speaking at a contracting conference hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army last week, said the task force has reassured senior Defense officials that the provisions it plans to recommend for change or deletion are prudent. But many of the modifications would require congressional approval.

Along the way, the panel is consulting with specific elements of DoD whose mission areas are directly affected by particular portions of the supplement.

“If the clause or the provision was aligned to a particular entity, like maybe U.S. Transportation Command, we had experts from TRANSCOM weigh in. Or if it had to do engineering and construction, we went to the Corps of Engineers and talked to them about whether this makes sense or not,” Hoskin said. “Most of these changes are going to require a legislative change proposal — just like with the Section 809 panel. But this is good timing for all this, because both the House and the Senate and also our department’s leadership all sees this as a challenge that we need to fix.”

The 809 Panel is a group of acquisition experts Congress created to help advise it on how to streamline the acquisition system. It is running in parallel to the work of the regulatory reform task forces, and is focused more on the changes lawmakers need to make to federal statute.

Some officials, like Hoskin, are members of both panels. Maj. Gen. Casey Blake, the Air Force’s deputy assistant secretary for contracting, is another.

Blake noted that the 809 panel has already released its first volume of suggestions for reform, which includes 24 recommendations, spanning more than 600 pages.

“But let me remind you, the front end of that report is recommendations, and the back end is literally line-by-line legislative proposals,” he said. “We’ve got to reduce the reporting, we’ve got to reduce the drag in the system, and so let’s clean out all the underbrush that we’ve got right now. We’ve got statutes that are in there that have been there for years and are no longer relevant. Unlike some other acquisition reform reports that have been produced over the years and are stacked somewhere, I really have become less cynical about what we’re doing on the 809 Panel.”

Recommendations surfacing in legislation

There is another reason to be optimistic that the 809 panel’s recommendations will not simply gather dust.

Many of the streamlining ideas it offered in the first volume of its report have already been picked up by Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who incorporated them into the Defense Acquisition Streamlining and Transparency Act. This is a broader package of legislation he is circulating in the form of a discussion draft.

Other 809 panel members said they feel the majority of their recommendations are already represented in that bill, and that they are hopeful that the rest will be adopted as part of this year’s process of negotiating the 2019 Defense authorization bill.

“We have made recommendations to repeal outdated provisions, provisions that don’t serve their purpose any longer, but our additional focus is to make suggestions to amend the process to provide for agility, to provide for speed,” said David Drabkin, the panel’s chairman. “Not speed for speed’s sake, but because if we buy something in a perfect way, but we deliver it late, it doesn’t help. We need to find a way to buy tomorrow’s technology today instead of buying yesterday’s technology for delivery tomorrow.”

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