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Federal Procurement: Continuing to Sustain the Arsenal of Democracy

On the eve of our nation’s entry into World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt, in a radio address to the nation, first proposed that the U.S. would serve as an “Arsenal of Democracy.” Under this plan, the U.S. provided the United Kingdom the supplies necessary to stand firm against German Nazi aggression that engulfed Europe. FDR’s arsenal of democracy consisted of companies representing a cross-section of U.S. economic sectors, from telecommunications and electronics, steel manufacturing, chemicals, aircraft and automobile manufacturers, and shipbuilding; the list is enormous. This unprecedented focus of industrial power in furtherance of national security goals comes to mind as our nation has joined with other nations to support Ukraine’s defense of its sovereignty from Russian aggression.

The U.S. has led international support for Ukraine’s military struggle, and the hope is for that nation to maintain self-determination and a lasting peace. That struggle, however, has come at a terrible cost to Ukraine in terms of blood and treasure. Though clearly not on the front lines of the conflict, those nations assisting Ukraine are facing challenges, as well. Reports have appeared expressing concerns that military supplies and weapons stockpiles of nations’ supporting Ukraine are diminishing. The U.S., the largest source of supply to Ukraine’s effort, will need to ramp up production and restock its supplies. That production certainly will come from our nation’s industrial base, but the means through which that production finds its way to our nation’s warfighters is the federal procurement system.

Government procurement (and oversight of that system) dates to the Revolutionary War. From the beginning, it was understood that to facilitate access to the innovation necessary to affect the mission of government, a system of purchase was needed. That system comes with certain attributes, like the notice of opportunity; fair consideration; full and open competition; ethics criteria; flexibility in times of exigency; and a means to redress disputes over contract award and contract performance. These attributes provide the order and integrity necessary for not only access to goods and services, but also the fairness necessary to incent industry to compete for the opportunity to supply the government.

We need only look to our nation’s ability to respond to the pandemic to see the capacity of the procurement system to rise to the occasion and serve the national interest. Recall that, as the COVID-19 virus reached U.S. shores, it became apparent that the supply chain for certain supplies, like personal protection equipment, was distributed overseas and in great global demand. The system, however, was able to respond with surge capacity through mechanisms, such as:

  • Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) emergency acquisition flexibilities indexed under FAR Part 18, including increased acquisition thresholds
  • The Competition in Contracting Act (CICA) (c)(7) exceptions to competitive procedures to allow for targeted or expeditious acquisition
  • The Defense Production Act (DPA), which permits the President to allocate facilities, services, and materials in furtherance of national defense, as well as orders for needed items to be issued to entities under government contracts or to entities that do not hold a government contract
  • Cooperative purchasing for states under the schedules

Whether in day-to-day work or in times of crisis, the procurement system is the lynchpin that facilitates the needed collaboration between government and industry in furtherance of national objectives. It provides a mechanism to access the tools to combat growing existential threats, like cyber-attack and environmental issues, and it affords the opportunity to strengthen the industrial base across sectors. It serves as a mechanism to implement policy goals, like protocols for cybersecurity and growth in the industrial base through socioeconomic authorities. By no means is the procurement system perfect; indeed, this blog has addressed systemic challenges related to requirements development, supply chain, and timing issues. As the new Congress begins its work, however, it is our hope that it recognizes the value of the procurement system to government mission fulfillment. To that end, the Coalition offers its support in facilitating dialogue with stakeholders and working to keep the system relevant and responsive to government needs for years to come.

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