Inside DOD

By Amber Corrin

Blog archive

Defense acquisition: the 800-pound gorilla in the room at IRMCO

At the Interagency Resource Management Conference last week, acquisition was a popular topic of conversation -- not surprising, since a large number of the attendees work count acquisition as some or all of their jobs. After all, the government can't have any of the goods or resources it needs without the acquisition and procurement process.

So why, at a conference dedicated to federal resource management, was talk about defense acquisition seemingly as taboo a conversation subject as partisan politics or religion?

The Defense Department’s inventory represents some 86 percent of government assets, according to the March 23 report from the congressionally appointed Defense Acquisition Reform Panel. Defense acquisition accounts for some $4.6 trillion in government assets – also known as federal resources.

In a session titled “Leveraging Partnerships to Fuel Innovation in Acquisition,” a panel of four high-level acquisition professionals praised their pet projects, favorite programs and noble civil servant colleagues. But nobody mentioned the aspect of acquisition that perhaps most needs innovation, that could benefit most from strategic partnerships, that the Defense Acquisition Reform Panel deemed to be “failing the mission” in its processes: those that arm our military.

In the session on innovative acquisition, Karen Pica, management analyst at the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, enthusiastically touted her office’s moves to streamline recruitment and hiring and attract talent to come work for the government.

But despite her role as a top analyst of federal procurement, Pica had nothing to say about defense acquisition; in fact, she pointedly avoided answering a direct question about the subject.

Which is too bad, because the Defense Department could use her ideas – considering the panel on acquisition reform recommended “significant improvements” in managing the acquisition process, developing and incentivizing the highest quality workforce, improving financial management, and maximizing the industrial base.

Only the session provocateur, Lesley Anne Field, would speak to the issue. Field, OMB’s deputy administrator for federal procurement policy, said DOD too can leverage partnerships, both within the department and with other government agencies.

“There are lots of opportunities to recognize inefficiencies and make improvements, but it can’t be done in a vacuum in the acquisitions office,” Field said. “To help meet the guidance, DOD needs relationships, especially within the agency. [The department has to] force partnerships.” Such relationships could help spur efforts and get DOD acquisitions reform moving forward, she added.

It’s important, too, for innovation to touch defense acquisition as much as any other type. Hopefully DOD will overcome its traditional isolation from the rest of the government to take advantage of strategic partnerships that can help it improve – and hopefully the rest of the government is willing to share the wealth of new ideas and approaches, including those brought forth at IRMCO.

Posted by Amber Corrin on Apr 20, 2010 at 12:14 PM


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