Cultural changes at DOD a major factor in defense acquisition reform

Industry officials see the need for change in DOD ideas of weapons systems, contracting practices.

The Congress-appointed Defense Acquisition Reform Panel recently scolded the Defense Department for its outdated policies in buying its weapons, saying that the current approaches don’t meet today’s need for speedy procurement, particularly with regard to information technology.

Now, the defense IT community is speaking out with its own views on acquisition reform.

They agree that DOD acquisition policy is grossly ill-suited for IT. Originally geared for large-scale weapons systems, the obsolete policies are based on timelines of years rather than the nanoseconds of today’s IT. In this game, even months can be too long for getting the latest technology into the hands of the military.

DOD is trying, some say. “Having nothing is worse than having a partial solution,” said Tim Harp, component acquisition executive at the Defense Finance Accounting Service. According to Harp, who spoke at a briefing in Washington held by TechAmerica on April 6, internal coordination is under way to address ways to quickly move on reform.

But what’s behind the lagging policy reform?

"Cultural issues” are taking an increasing amount of blame for DOD’s lacking progress into the 21st century. “Changing mindsets and culture will be the long pole in the tent,” said House Armed Service Committee’s Kevin Gates, also speaking at the briefing. "We need a new mindset of IT as a weapons system, and that's slowly integrating."

Defense contracting has a direct impact on acquisition as well; contracting commercial technologies is how DOD acquires the weapons and systems it puts in the hands of service members.

“Acquisition [personnel] use the familiar and comfortable approaches [to contracting], which are better suited for large-scale procurement,” Gates said. “We need to take a fundamental look at the contracting mechanisms and incentives. Some are better for IT than others, but the community doesn’t always know what works the best.”

Poor defense IT acquisition has widespread implications, affecting even not-so-obvious arenas like corporate behavior, said IBM executive consultant Bruce Leinster.

He also said that too many legislative fixes geared toward improving contracting practices are actually bogging down the process.

“Let’s fix the abuse and not create all the legislation,” he said. According to Leinster, the government’s heavy hand is costing defense acquisition, including overzealous taxing on contractors and a litany of requirements and restrictions that “scare off” potential contracting competition as well as private sector talent.

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