By Pia Romero Contracts Administrator, Los Alamos National Laboratory
During the last 10 years, the Global War on Terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan has brought forth the need for initiatives to bridge the capability gaps in the Department of Defense (DoD) acquisition cycle. In order to provide the best possible wartime support to tactical and operational commanders, DoD implemented the Rapid Acquisition Program. The program supports operational needs that cannot be met by existing programs of record, or within the DOD 5000 acquisition model. This initiative provides critical end items to commanders on a real-time basis.
As demonstrated through the rapid fielding of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle, DoD provided this item to soldiers by implementing the tailored acquisition approach to rapidly acquire and field the MRAP.
DoD awarded nine indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contracts to commercial sources in 2006 for the production of these vehicles. The initial objective was to procure a small fleet of MRAPs for the Marine Corps’ use in Iraq. However, additional requests from the Army for this vehicle increased the demand. In light of this, DoD went from an inventory of zero MRAPs to 15,000 vehicles in less than three years.
Under the normal acquisition cycle used by DoD, the process of selection would have taken seven years. This rigorous process — known as the Defense Acquisition Management Framework — includes several milestones. These milestones address several components in order to render the product fully ready for a soldier’s use. Unlike the normal acquisition cycle used by DoD, the “rapid acquisition” cycle shortened the selection process to a period of two to five years.
Another example of the successful use of the Rapid Acquisition Program is demonstrated by the fielding of the Army’s Grey Eagle Unmanned Aircraft System. Based on the urgent requirement to provide this surveillance aircraft to soldiers in both the Iraq and Afghanistan areas of operation, the Army elected to use the Rapid Acquisition Program. The Army has deployed two Quick Reaction Capabilities of the aircraft to Iraq and Afghanistan while simultaneously pursuing a traditional Gray Eagle program-of-record.
The program allowed the fielding of this aircraft to soldiers within 18 months. Fielding this aircraft in this short timeframe has provided soldiers the ability to track the enemy without detection.
Reducing time to field equipment
As seen in both acquisition examples, by reducing or not including subsets in the key milestones contained in the standard acquisition life cycle, the Rapid Acquisition Program shortens the period of equipment fielding by a significant number of years, thus providing soldiers the critical items in a rapid timeframe.
The Rapid Acquisition Program also allows the contracting community to take an active and conscientious role in the process. The program’s reliance on commercially available products allow a larger pool of the contracting community the ability to compete in the process as many companies have such products readily available. This, in turn, allows DoD to take advantage of full and open competition requirements.
In addition, the program’s need for active participation throughout its life cycle demands the participation of the contracting community. The program’s concurrent approach demands that contractors be heavily involved throughout this cycle as this assures DoD that appropriate goals and demands of the program are being met. The program also demands that contractors continually demonstrate the progress of their work and demonstrate solutions to issues presented by DoD.
Furthermore, the program’s stringent and quick turnaround requirements demand that subcontractors respond in an urgent manner. In order to ensure DoD’s needs are met in such a timely fashion, many vendors collectively invest their capital or establish teaming arrangements with each other. These teaming arrangements allow the contracting community to establish mentor-protégé relationships that subsequently result in contract awards to small businesses. This, in turn, fulfills DoD’s small business contract award goals and promotes the use of small businesses.
Although I could not find conclusive cost savings data for the use of the Rapid Acquisition Program, applying the elements correctly and implementing a formal tracking mechanism on the program can save money.
The normal acquisition cycle used by DoD includes phases separated by milestones. Such milestones establish the framework to review the acquisition program, monitor and administer progress of the end item, and identify and correct any deficiencies identified along the acquisition cycle. This evolutionary process can be costly as it is a very judicious process. All told, there are six phases in the acquisition cycle containing up to 225 elements that must be addressed throughout the process.
Unlike the normal acquisition cycle, the Rapid Acquisition Program does not include the number of deliberate milestones, streamlines and combines many of the phases within the milestones, and continuously involves a collaborative effort between the user, tester, and the developer.
Furthermore, the program makes better use of the funding provided to it. These streamlined applications allow efficiencies to be recognized, which in turn saves money. In addition, the program forces the DoD community to be realistic about its acquisitions and may force the community to plan better for its future acquisitions. This is especially important in this era of declining budgets and fiscal constraints.
The Rapid Acquisition Program has provided excellent benefits for DoD. The program rapidly provides items to the soldier, allows the contracting community the ability to participate and compete in the process, and can save money when applied properly.
Pia Romero is a contracts administrator at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and serves as an executive officer in the New Mexico Army National Guard. Romero is a Certified Federal Contracts Manager (CFCM) and a member of the National Contract Management Association. Send comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org. Romero wrote this column as part of Federal News Radio’s week-long special report, Inside the World’s Biggest Buyer.