Reform at Defense

Nearly six months after finishing a major overhaul of its acquisition guidelines the Defense Department is undertaking a multifaceted effort to translate its new policies into real changes in how it does business.

This effort not only involves concrete activities such as following up on specific recommendations for putting new policies into play and convening a number of senior-level councils on policy issues but also addresses the murkier subject of acquisition culture.

"As we said from the beginning one of the key factors we had to do as part of acquisition reform on implementation and institutionalization of changes " Colleen Preston deputy undersecretary of Defense for acquisition reform said in an interview with Federal Computer Week.

This week for example DOD is bringing back together more than 400 people who contributed to the acquisition reform initiative which culminated in March with a total rewrite of the department's acquisition guidelines in Directive 5000.1 and Regulation 5000.2-R.

These individuals - among the 503 process action team members who will be presented with Hammer Awards by the vice president's office for their role in the effort - will have a chance to meet with senior DOD acquisition officials and review how their recommendations have been followed up.

"What's important is that we are following up with them to make sure they understand what has happened - that people really did listen to what they had to say and that we acted on it " Preston said.DOD is also in the final stages of creating what Preston calls an "electronic commerce facilitator" - a group that will coordinate how electronic commerce is adopted throughout DOD.

Furthermore DOD is concerned about promulgating its new policies. It has established a joint program office with representatives from each of the services and the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) to push information throughout the department.

Meanwhile a senior-level Defense Acquisition Policy Steering Group will oversee the evolution of the Defense Acquisition Deskbook an on-line publication of DOD and federal acquisition regulations that also will provide a growing body of "discretionary" guidance.

The deskbook is important because it embodies the underpinning of DOD's acquisition reform effort: a clear delineation between mandatory and discretionary guidance. DOD stripped away as many mandatory guidelines as possible to allow acquisition personnel to use their own judgment more often. "That's [something] we have talked about for a long time but nobody has been able to break the code and change the culture of everybody living in fear of the [inspector general] " Preston said.

By making the distinction between the two sections of the deskbook DOD hopes to head off attempts to propagate more departmentwide policies and encourage the services and agencies to build up the reserves of lessons learned.

Preston expects to see new policies emerge at different levels of DOD as they have in the past. However in adopting new policies DOD will move closer to the dynamics among federal state and local governments.

"If an activity develops an acquisition approach that makes sense for what they are buying they ought to share that with people and it ought not to be imposed on everyone unless you can show that it's for the good of both the government and industry " Preston said.

The distinction between mandatory and discretionary guidance also requires a change in how DOD assesses the performance of its acquisition personnel.

"Now the standard of review will not be whether or not you crossed all the t's and dotted all the i's but whether or not you used every bit of information that was available to you " she said.

Eventually it all gets back to the concept of empowering Defense personnel. That might seem a bit murky for a traditionally rules-bound organization but these days it is a necessity according to Preston.


  • Federal 100 Awards
    Federal 100 logo

    Nominations for the 2021 Fed 100 are now being accepted

    The deadline for submissions is Dec. 31.

  • Government Innovation Awards
    Government Innovation Awards -

    Congratulations to the 2020 Rising Stars

    These early-career leaders already are having an outsized impact on government IT.

Stay Connected