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Opportunities for Positive Change in the New Year

Readers of the blog and Friday Flash know that the Coalition recently released its white paper,Overview of Approaches to Acquisition Management Reform and Digital Transformation.” Recognizing that we face a new year with transitions of all kinds, the Coalition believes now to be the opportune time to articulate new thoughts about the acquisition environment and how the government could use its existing authority to improve the system.

Briefly, our overview identifies the reality that the nation faces multidimensional, asynchronous threats.  Adversaries targeting companies, individuals, and government agencies and their partner organizations are waging their battle in Cyberspace, in private companies, and in our financial institutions. China, the locus of many of these assaults on our systems, represents the most challenging national security threat to the United States. China is a significant source of supply for critical resources; it is the source of rare earth metals needed for our nation’s advanced technology; and it is improving its capacity to increase its speed of innovation. Thus, with China emerging as an adversary/competitor/supplier and the unprecedented speed of global technological development, the overview recognizes that improving acquisition improves national security and, ultimately, allows the United States to maintain the technological edge needed to secure the nation.

Based on the foregoing, we have concluded that the United States may no longer view acquisition reform as an isolated exercise to improve the way it procures. Rather, the US needs to evolve the system to incorporate the flexibility necessary to facilitate access to innovation. Part of this effort involves better leveraging market incentives to enhance the attractiveness of the government market thereby fostering needed growth in the capabilities of the domestic industrial base.

To address current and emerging government challenges, the overview proposes three areas of opportunity that can be achieved effectively without legislative effort. Specifically, the government can now:

  • Improve the data upon which acquisition decisions are made, and leverage data to measure the effectiveness of systems and the programs supported by it;
  • Continue the evolution of the acquisition system from a Cold War bureaucratic process to a system that is nimble and adaptable to embrace change, that tolerates risk, and that delivers scalable capabilities quickly; and
  • Empower the acquisition workforce with meaningful support, development, and resources.

Utilization of data can assist government in managing programs. Specifically, government can identify performance benchmarks, such as:

  • Expected processing time
  • Total Cost of Acquisition (TCA) to include all direct and indirect costs (solutions, alternatives, impacts) for the approach taken

Through the use of transparency mechanisms, all stakeholders can remain engaged in active management of a given program, identifying problems early on, and executing value-based remediation or termination where warranted. So too, digitization of the government’s supply chain provides the government data to understand, manage, and enhance its supply chain.

Our overview recognizes that evolving government acquisition is not susceptible to a “flash-cut” from old ways of purchasing and management to new ones. In the same way that an organism might repair itself while carrying on the processes of life, the government must continue to operate. The government could start by culling duplicative regulations and instituting rigorous control around the process of generating regulations. It also could impose on itself the discipline to review the utility of regulations periodically and improve the conduct of necessary audits.

Finally, the overview proposes reinvigorating support for the acquisition workforce. In addition to providing the full resources necessary for contracting officials to conduct their work, the government should revisit efforts to support education on a continuing basis, evolving it as the needs of the agencies and the offerings in the market evolve. This process should identify needed critical skills coupled with developing a strategy to recruit and educating employees on a continuing basis in areas where specialization is needed.

We intend the overview to be a starting point for discussion. We are seeking to promote ideas for reform and innovation that build on the studies undertaken and are susceptible to quick implementation. To that end, we have suggested the appointment of a leader to execute the ideas articulated. The Coalition, of course, stands at the ready to assist in such an effort, and hopes the overview sparks additional ideas for improvements that support the missions of agencies served by our members.

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