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The Navy is now giving each of its system commands the authority to use other transaction authorities up to $100 million.
The move comes as the Navy and other parts of the military and Defense Department are increasingly using the procurement method to pay for prototypes and use nontraditional defense companies to spur innovation.
“Part of my challenge to those command leaders is, in their particular environment, what’s the right OTA for the job they have at hand?” said Navy Assistant Secretary for Research, Development and Acquisition James Geurts in a Tuesday interview with Federal News Network at the Modern Day Marine conference in Quantico, Virginia. “Specifically, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) has done some on information warfare. Our undersea warfare center has done some for undersea technologies and, quite frankly, there’s other great ones across the department that we might just leverage rather than create one of our own.”
Geurts said the use of OTAs depends on the mission area the commands is working in at the time.
“We need to have that full toolset available so that we can rapidly prototype and rapidly test stuff so we can take some of the time and cost out of looking at new products and getting them the hands of our warfighters,” Geurts said.
The Navy runs five different systems commands, meaning the commands have the authority to execute OTA agreements totaling up to $500 million.
The Navy gave SPAWAR OTA authority back in June. The command hoped it could get companies to pitch new technologies and products to the Navy.
“If you set this up right, you can encourage unsolicited suggestions for technology advancements,” said William Deligne, the deputy executive director of SPAWAR’s Systems Center Atlantic, the organization that created and is managing the Information Warfare Research Project OTA. “You don’t always know what you don’t know, right? And so what we’re trying to do is encourage a two-way exchange. We’re going to place orders into the consortium, but we want the consortium members to also feel like they can bring unsolicited research to the table that we could consider.”
With up to $500 million now on the line, Geurts said the Navy is treading lightly with how it uses the OTAs. As of right now, the procurement vehicles are hardly reviewed by Congress or any outside groups and do not have to follow the traditional acquisition regulations.
“OTAs, I think, are a tool. They’re not the perfect tool for every job, just like the hammer isn’t the perfect job for a screw, but if you don’t have a hammer, some jobs you can’t do,” Geurts said. “I look at OTAs as one of many tools we need to perfect. Prize challenges are great tools, cooperative research and development agreements are great tools, small business innovative research contracts are great tools. They really train and hold the workforce accountable for being knowledgeable and using all those tools in the appropriate manner.”
He added that he is making sure OTAs have the proper oversight.
OTAs fit into one of the core goals Geurts is focusing on, which is building the Navy’s agility by reducing iteration time, prototyping quicker, building things faster and bringing in new companies that traditionally don’t work with the service.
Geurts said part of doing that involves developing talent in the acquisition workforce, training them and giving them the right knowledge to know when to utilize different contracting methods.