DOD rewrites book on IT buys

Secretary of Defense William Perry last month approved a major rewrite of Defense Department acquisition guidelines, completing an intense effort to streamline how DOD buys technology.

The reform effort began in 1992 with the recommendations of the Section 800 panel and now includes guidelines to bring the department's procedures into sync with governmentwide procurement reform.

DOD Directive 5000.1 and DOD Regulation 5000.2-R incorporate several key reform initiatives the department has been pushing throughout the last year, including discretionary guidelines, Integrated Product Teams (IPTs) and the use of commercial products and specifications.

"We are institutionalizing the new initiatives that we have been working on," said Ric Sylvester, director of program acquisition strategies improvement at the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition Reform. "We are trying to make sure the policy we have matches the practices [we have developed]," Sylvester said.

Some of the particulars and much of the spirit of the rewrites reflect reform initiatives going on governmentwide, observers said.

In particular, the department is focusing on stripping away the excessive layers of regulations that have burdened its program staff, according to Steven Kelman, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

"What they are trying to do is turn that battleship around and move in the direction of having their own policies and regulations reflect the message of [governmentwide] acquisition reform," Kelman said.

In particular, DOD, like other agencies, wants to give program managers more flexibility and, ultimately, more responsibility in managing their programs. Most noticeably, DOD has reduced the volume of rules, slashing to 160 pages what was a 1,000-page document of acquisition dos and don'ts.

Rather than one large volume, the new guidelines couple a core set of rules with a compendium of best practices and lessons learned, from which program managers can draw guidance. The department hopes the new approach will foster a more innovative and efficient procurement environment.

"If you have all kinds of policy...you constrain the amount of room in which [program managers] can exercise judgment," Sylvester said. "We don't want to do that." These discretionary guidelines will be contained in an acquisition "Deskbook" available first on CD-ROM and later on the World Wide Web.

"The DOD 5000 rewrite shifts program managers from risk aversion to prudent risk management," said James McAleese, principal of McAleese & Associates P.C., a McLean, Va.-based government contracts law firm.

In similar fashion, DOD policy emphasizes the use of integrated product teams.

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