DIUX and RCO could get lost in transition

Despite DOD assertions that programs like DIUX and the RCO are too mature to be eliminated by the next administration, experts warn that could happen from benign neglect.

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Senior defense officials have said in recent weeks that new programs like the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental and the Rapid Capabilities Office are too mature to be rolled back by a new administration, but others warn that those programs could fade away without renewed commitment from President-elect Donald Trump.

The Center for a New American Security is preparing a report due in mid-December that argues the next administration must take concrete steps to preserve DIUX and other programs. But the report will further argue that the Defense Department needs to develop a new, normalized acquisition track to focus on adapting commercial technology for military use.

Ben FitzGerald, a senior fellow and director of the Technology and National Security Program at CNAS, told FCW that Secretary of Defense Ash Carter's approach to change at DOD was to adapt around the existing system and try to create reform momentum through DIUX and other initiatives.

"That was the right place to start, [but] the question is how do you then turn that into business as usual?" FitzGerald said. "Secretary Carter didn't have sufficient time in office to be able to do that."

FitzGerald said the transition presents a window of opportunity for the incoming administration to build on the work of the current defense team and the House and Senate Armed Services committees.

"If [the Trump administration wants] to keep these kinds of initiatives moving forward, they need to do more than just allowing the offices to exist," FitzGerald said. "They have to actively support them. Otherwise, the inertia of the current bureaucracy will see them get ground into dust over time."

He added that "the second step is engaging in deeper bureaucratic reform. [In our report,] we are going to advocate for an alternate acquisition pathway, which is optimized for adapting commercial technology for military purposes."

Furthermore, FitzGerald said there must be greater clarity and reform of acquisition regulations. Too often, decisions are left to contracting officers and their interpretation of the Federal Acquisition Regulation.

"I don't think that we need new regulations in the FAR in terms of providing the right authorities, but we can just clarify things so that contracting officers don't have to do that interpretation," he said.

The report will also push for increased training of the defense acquisition workforce. FitzGerald said DOD has not spent all the money it has been authorized for the Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund.

Trump has advocated for significantly increasing defense spending, particularly in areas such as shipbuilding, and expanding the size of the armed forces.

Nevertheless, it's unclear what the military budget will be in the coming year. Despite rumors that congressional negotiators had reached a deal on the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, sources close to the negotiations told FCW that talks are ongoing.

That creates greater uncertainty for programs like DIUX and raises questions about what resources the Trump administration will have for defense spending next year.

"My concern is that we're going to get caught between the president-elect's intent to invest in more capability, which is good, [and] just seeking to acquire more of the current systems that we have," FitzGerald said. "So it would be unfortunate if in the opportunity provided by a Trump administration to increase our military capability, we go out and buy the best military that we possibly could from the 1980s."

He added that "we can't afford to do that. It's not just about buying more things.... We need to invest in our technological advantage."

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