New consortium wants to build defense partnerships to take advantage of recent acquisition changes

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Congress spent the last several years making Defense acquisition friendlier toward smaller and nontraditional companies. Now one congressman is bringing together industry, academia and the Defense Department to better take advantage of the new process.

The Maryland Defense and Aerospace Consortium held its first meeting last Tuesday, and Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) hopes it will instill greater partnership between companies, DoD, universities and even kindergarten classes.

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“Much of the innovation takes place in small- and medium-sized firms, and when those firms can partner with larger companies then we are going to get to the warfighter the equipment, the systems, the information and the technology they need at a much quicker pace,” Brown told Federal News Network. “We’ve done a lot on Capitol Hill to try to streamline acquisition, and now it’s really about promoting partnerships so industry can partner and work with DoD to deliver a quality product to the warfighter.”

That means more than just getting companies and DoD together on products. It means keeping the workforce pipeline full of smart, technically-minded people, cultivating small businesses so they can work with the government and thrive and putting industry and colleges together to share ideas.

Brown’s consortium aims to do all of that, especially within Maryland. The consortium’s inaugural meeting hosted representatives from DoD, Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, the Association of Career and Technical Education, the Aerospace Industries Association, the University of Maryland and more. The meeting was also attended by Army Undersecretary Ryan McCarthy.

“The purpose of the consortium is threefold,” Brown said. “One is to create networking opportunities between firms and to strengthen the partnership between the aerospace and defense industry and academia. University of Maryland, College Park is our flagship program; it’s got a strong engineering program. There are a number of fellowships and internships between industry and the university and we’d like to strength those and expand those.”

The second tenet of the consortium is to build best practices. Brown plans to start seminars so large companies can teach smaller firms how to protect themselves from cyber attacks, how to keep supply chains clear to do business with the government and how to hire the best people.

The first seminar will cover data security.

“The larger companies are well resourced to address that challenge with a little more ease. They have some resiliency built into their systems. With small firms it’s a lot more challenging because of their limited resources,” Brown said. “We are also planning this year to have a seminar on specific action items that industry participants can take to partner with schools. Maybe you have an employee that is willing to coach a robotics club or maybe we will pull together a consortium of small, medium or large firms to create a teachers academy to support teachers that are delivering STEM education in our schools.”

The third area Brown hopes to address is connecting industry with K-12 schools.

“There are many middle schools in my district and on a career day in school there isn’t a single STEM professional who shows up,” Brown said.

The need for partnership

DoD started putting a larger emphasis on collaboration and partnerships with industry under former Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s leadership.

After realizing DoD had been focusing on the Middle East while near-peer competitors were starting to reemerge, Carter created hubs like the Defense Innovation Unit to bring in new ideas to keep the U.S. military’s technological edge.

At the same time, Congress changed some of the acquisition regulations that were keeping nontraditional companies from doing business with DoD. The hope was to harness their brain power and use it.

While the rules are changing, small- and medium-sized companies and companies that don’t traditionally work with DoD are still on the outside looking in when it comes to contracting with the government.

DoD is pushing for outreach mechanisms like Brown’s to build more relationships with nontraditional defense companies that are innovating quickly.

Another worry involves the limited talent pool from which DoD and defense companies have to draw from, something Brown called a national security issue.

“Whether you’re talking about cyber defense or the eligibility to join the armed forces, we all know that more work needs to be done to deliver the education, the experience, the training to this potential workforce whether they are going into the military or industry,” Brown said.

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