Agencies seek to shed antiquated acquisition model

As the Defense Department and the government writ large struggle to match policy to the pace of technology, the gap that is acquisition speed doesn’t seem to be getting much smaller. Now DOD and the intelligence community are looking at new ways of buying technology, goods and services, but are still determining when to buy fast – and when to stick with the status quo.

DOD’s acquisition model effectively is still rooted in an industrial-era model, but leadership is hopeful that new ways of buying are on the horizon, according to a panel of DOD and intelligence officials who spoke April 17 at an AFCEA DC event in Arlington, Va.

“The asymmetry I deal with on a daily basis is the difference in speed between the amazing technology that’s being produced by industry and the agility of the commercial space, [and] the different tempo and processes used internal to the government to take advantage of those,” said Ted Cope, director of geo-intelligence research at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. “That seems to be its own type of asymmetric warfare.”

Increasingly, acquisition officials are looking to a pilot-style model of developing and fielding technologies that are less than 100 percent solutions, but still effective.

“We’ve been successful when we’ve taken an approach where things are built to be piloted versus being built to last. You recognize that maybe you don’t have the perfect solution,” Cope said. “Maybe doing things in smaller chunks versus bigger blocks…but then you get the challenge of how do you make these pieces interoperable?”

Cope said that’s a process his agency is still learning, along with trying to determine how to scale pilot-type projects to an enterprise level. “That’s a gear we’re still learning to shift,” he said.

Furthermore, the incremental approach isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution by any means, according to Tami Johnson, project manager with the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force.

“With some things it just doesn’t work. It has to be individual-specific to a program. That’s where the acquisition community really needs to stay on top of this, and when it doesn’t make sense, regardless of the pressure, we need to be able to stand up and say, ‘Look, if we deliver this capability in 12 months, you’re going to get garbage. We need to push forward on some things, but stay realistic.”

According to Gus Hunt, CTO for chief information officer, Central Intelligence Agency, security is also a high-priority issue, along with finding solutions that can accommodate the mass capacity required by DOD and the intelligence agency’s volumes of data. Still, he remained optimistic.

“I’m hoping this is the harbinger of our future economic engine,” he said.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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Reader comments

Fri, Apr 27, 2012 Elise

I read one article saying Jeff Denham wants to abolish GSA, and a second article saying DOD needs a speedy acquisition? Isn't that why GSA is creating these vehicles? If agencies will step up and recognize the benefits of GWACS and schedules, they could take advantage of the pre competed, streamlined process GSA is offering. Resources are available and selective, best-in-class companies have been awarded these vehicles. Lead time is reduced significantly. Agencies need to take advantage of what is being offered.

Mon, Apr 23, 2012 FedUpwithCool-Aid NOVA

I agree with most of the comments above. To add the fact is that as engineers, we spend way too much time trying to clarify requirements. When this happens, we have no choice but to step back so that we can forge ahead. By that time, we are too far behind the curve and cannot play catch up. We don't always get do out when meetings or meeting minutes when IPT's have concluded. The accountability is missing and no-one tells the boss what he/she shouldn't do, because they are too insecure about their skills/abilities.

Mon, Apr 23, 2012

The US government requirements process has been broken for a long time. I've been saying this for the last year and a half now. Our governement (congress) has created a trillion dollar deficit now because it doesn't know how to identify and track the monies they spend. No one wants to embrace a requirements process because it involves hundereds of thousands of man hours derived from a nasty four letter word..."work". It's a thankless job that does want to get recoginized by anyone. How does this get fixed?

Sun, Apr 22, 2012 Christopher Moore Washington DC

Amber, this was a much needed piece – thank you. We’re living in a technology-driven world. And what takes center stage in a technology-driven world? Software and applications. Apps run our personal lives (e.g., think iPhone and iPad), our businesses and our government. Indeed, according to research firm IDC – the government spent about $8 billion last year on software apps. In fact, my organization Flexera Software found that anywhere from 5-30% of that $8 billion (up to $2.4 billion) was wasted. Wasted on audit penalties from non-compliant use, wasted on shelfware because it wasn’t used or needed in the first place, or wasted on inefficient deployment and high deployment costs. So, with all that said, it certainly seems plausible the government might start making serious considerations to buy technology solutions that ‘sure up’ the efficiency of its software spend.

A lot of people don’t know that both the senate and house (the house version introduced by Congressman Joe Walsh) have included language in the Department of Homeland Security authorization bill to eliminate wasteful software license spending. It was passed unanimously back in November 2011. The language requires the CIO of Department of Homeland Security to conduct a department-wide inventory of all existing software licenses including utilized and un-utilized licenses. The CIO must assess the needs of DHS components for software licenses for the upcoming two fiscal years, and examine how the Department can achieve the greatest possible economies of scale and cost-savings in the procurement of software licenses. If the CIO determines that the number of existing software licenses of the Department exceeds the needs of the Department, the amendment would require the CIO to establish a plan for bringing the number of software licenses into balance with the needs of the Department.

As the government scrambles to cut federal spending in increasingly contentious budget hearings, finding the ‘low hanging fruit’ that both parties can readily agree on – is a no-brainer. Private enterprises have long understood that application usage management – which includes application readiness and software license optimization – is critical. And it’s about time the government followed suit and acknowledged the billions of dollars of waste hidden within its software budget.

Sun, Apr 22, 2012

'Energetic User' is right. In almost all instances, DOD (and Fed Gov) in general, are unable to provide a coherent requirements definition, much less translate it into a purchase action. "Oooh, Shiny- Gotta have it NOW!"

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