Despite long struggle over intellectual property, DoD still lacks bench of IP experts

The DoD Reporter’s Notebook is a weekly summary of personnel, acquisition, technology and management stories that may have fallen below your radar during the past week, but are nonetheless important. It’s compiled and published each Monday by Federal News Network DoD reporters Jared Serbu and Scott Maucione.

The Defense Department’s efforts to clear up intellectual property issues through Congressionally-mandated programs have made some progress, but the department has not solidified one of the core groups in charge of improving IP policy, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

IP has been a burr in the sock of the Defense Department for years, especially now that the Pentagon is relying more heavily on the innovation of private industry than its own in-house research.

As DoD has struggled to find the right balance between assuming IP from companies and letting business retain proprietary information, Congress — for the last five or so years — has taken steps to clear some of the muck.

“You really need people with the right skills and right knowledge about intellectual property; what they’re going to need in the future to be [able] to project,” Timothy DiNapoli, director of contracting and national security acquisitions at GAO, told Federal News Network. “What kind of data will we need five, 10, 15 years from now, how do we negotiate that type of data rights? How do we identify it? Those are things that are much longer term and probably much more challenging to do.”

Congress asked DoD to set up an IP Cadre to “ensure a consistent, strategic, and highly knowledgeable approach to acquiring or licensing intellectual property by providing expert advice, assistance, and resources to the acquisition workforce on intellectual property matters, including acquiring or licensing intellectual property,” according to the 2018 defense authorization act report.

Lawmakers envisioned the experts being assigned to a program office or acquisition command to advise and assist on IP matters.

DiNapoli said DoD has put out policy to address these IP concerns and create the cadre, but the depth is not there yet.

“It’s a good start, but there’s a lot more that needs to be done out in the field to make sure that we’re doing a better job of defining requirements, negotiating to meet those requirements, and then ensuring that we actually obtained and track the data so that we know what we have,” he said.

DoD has funding for only five positions through 2023 for the cadre; the temporality of the jobs are a disincentive to hiring the long-term experts DoD needs, GAO said. So far, DoD has allocated nearly $5 million for the cadre in 2020 and 2021.

“While DoD has developed a conceptual framework intended to guide its operations, we found that the department has not yet detailed how the IP Cadre will meet its broad responsibilities or determined whether it has the capacity to do so,” the report states.

There are also issues in the organization of the cadre as well.

“The members of the IP Cadre expect to tap into a larger pool of IP experts across DoD to support program offices by helping them develop IP strategies and negotiate with contractors, among other things,” the report states. “However, DoD has not yet detailed how the Director of the IP Cadre and the DoD will work with these other experts.”

DiNapoli’s team found that DoD lacks expertise in two areas as well: IP valuation and financial analysis. DoD is currently undertaking a pilot project to study valuation strategies.

“The pilot program will study valuation strategies used by one major Army weapon system and three smaller Navy programs to identify practices that can be shared across DoD and incorporated into department-wide guidance,” the GAO authors wrote.

Outside of the cadre, GAO found DoD’s current instruction on IP to be lacking.

“While the IP instruction emphasizes the importance of acquiring and licensing IP early in the acquisition process, officials from the IP Cadre and military departments stated that the instruction and department-wide guidance do not address DoD’s ability to acquire detailed manufacturing or process data,” the GAO authors wrote.

DiNapoli’s team gave DoD four recommendations. It suggested a planned guidebook on IP to clarify how DoD personnel can pursue detailed manufacturing or process data. The team said DoD needs to better coordinate staffing and funding and ensure DoD collaborates with the Defense Acquisition University on IP tasks between 2023 and 2025. Finally, the team recommended developing guidance to help component heads identify personnel in key career fields who would most benefit from IP training. — SM


Army — no stranger to simulators — wants to use them to train contracting workforce

The Army is extremely accustomed to using simulation-based training to help build competency among its helicopter pilots and other professions directly involved in warfighting. Now it’s trying the same for a cadre who work a bit more behind the scenes: Contracting professionals.

The service has started to roll out gamification to train contracting officers and contract specialists, particularly younger, less seasoned members of the workforce, said Megan Dake, the acting deputy assistant secretary of the Army for procurement.

She said the simulation project is being led by a team of government software developers, and for starters, will try to “gamify” only relatively simple acquisition programs.

“Through machine learning, the computer will learn and change up the scenario,” Dake said last week at the National Contract Management Association’s annual Government Contract Management Symposium in Washington.

Eventually though, the Army wants to mature the contracting simulator to be able to handle much more complicated procurements.

“My goal is to get where you have an entire training simulation, where you’re writing an RFP and releasing it on the street for something like a $200 million buy,” she said. “You do a formal source selection, and you walk through a simulation of all the different scenarios depending on what decisions you’ve made. Just like what a pilot would go through in a simulator — they make a decision, it could mean a crash. You could make one little mistake in a source selection or negotiation, but you learn through this without making real-life mistakes.”

But the Army’s reasons for moving to more technologically-driven training approaches go beyond the obvious allure of giving people opportunities to learn through consequence-free mistakes. There’s also a huge need to teach contracting professionals at a pace that’s more rapid than what they might otherwise learn from on-the-job experience and mentorship, since the Army still has a big gap between seasoned members of its workforce and newer hires.

That bathtub has meant newer contract professionals have been asked to take on relatively large amounts of experience fairly early in their careers.

“We move contract specialists up quickly, and I think it’s just because most organizations within Army contracting always have shortages, so you have to move someone up and get them trained really quickly,” she said. “We’re trying to encourage mentorships, but the [younger employees] also want things done quicker. They’re used to technology, and sometimes they don’t have those critical thinking skills … I think that’s where we have different strengths and weaknesses among our younger workforce. They’re used to things just happening. Really thinking through some of the really complex problems we have is what our more seasoned workforce can do. So there definitely is a gap, but I think we can learn from each other.” —JS


Space Force interested in outsourcing spy capabilities

There is software-as-a-service and IT-as-a-service, but what about space surveillance-as-a-service?

The Space Force is at least interested in seeing if something like that is feasible. The service put out a sources sought notice to see if there is a different way to operate its Space Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) Block 10 system.

The Air Force launched SBSS Block 10 in 2010 and is used to “provide timely analysis of high interest satellite maneuvers, predictions of potential collisions for tracked objects, location of lost objects, and identification of unknown objects,” according to the Defense Department’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation. It is also used by U.S. Strategic Command for intelligence and situational awareness, and used by the National Air and Space intelligence Center to detect changes in high interest objects that could result in the failure to control a satellite.

The sources sought will tell the Space Force if contractors can operate and maintain the vehicle from their own facilities and possibly a new vehicle once the SBSS Block 10 is decommissioned.

One thing that complicates the possibility of the contract is that Boeing and Ball Corporation own specific proprietary information regarding the engineering and technology. The contractor would need to work with the two companies in order to maintain and operate the system.

Companies will also have to work in top-secret atmospheres.

Currently Boeing is maintaining the system and has brought in more than $150 million under its current contract overseeing the SBSS Block 10. — SM


DoD has major blind spots in identifying extremists in military justice system

One of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s first acts was to order a 60-day stand-down to address potential extremism among military members, and a subsequent Pentagon report found infiltration of extremist ideology was a genuine threat to good order and discipline.

But nearly a year after Congress ordered the department to start producing data on how widespread the problems are, the Pentagon still has enormous blind spots, according to DoD’s inspector general.

Last year’s Defense authorization bill put the IG in charge of collecting information from the military services on “prohibited activities” in the ranks — specifically, supremacist, extremist, and criminal gang activity.

Based on what the services told the IG, there were 281 such investigations in the military criminal justice system in Fiscal 2021, including 56 cases in which military members were suspected of being racially-motivated violent extremists, 102 in which members were suspected of “domestic violence extremism,” 10 who were thought to have participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and 24 who were suspected to have an affiliation with a criminal gang.

But those figures may be just the tip of the iceberg, because DoD has no standardized mechanisms or policies for collecting data. Of the three military departments, the Army is the only one that even requires all allegations of “extremist activity” to be reported to a central organization — in that instance, its Criminal Investigation Command.

Out of the cases the IG did manage to identify, the military services had widely-varying definitions of what they counted as worrisome behavior. For example, in response to the office’s data calls, the Air Force included “contempt toward a public figure” and “domestic violence extremism” among the offenses it considered prohibited activates; the other services did not.

That’s partly because DoD still hasn’t set consistent policies for reporting data on extremism. As of last month, the department’s office of personnel and readiness was still circulating a draft version of a memo that would do so, but even if that version is eventually finalized as-written, it wouldn’t take effect for another four months.

“Until the DoD establishes DoD-wide policy for tracking and reporting allegations of prohibited activities, the DoD will continue to have inconsistent tracking of disciplinary actions for participation in extremist organizations and activities; problems identifying and collecting data from multiple, decentralized systems; and difficulty validating the accuracy of the data, the IG wrote.”

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