FAA takes an unusual route to spur innovation

Agency may use a rare procurement method in the hopes of attracting interested vendors

The Federal Aviation Administration is considering using a rarely invoked procurement practice in an effort to draw the industry partners it needs to develop new avionic technologies. Called other transaction authority (OTA), the approach creates government/industry partnerships under which companies that develop new products can keep the intellectual property rights to them. Aside from the Defense Department, agencies rarely use OTA. Many civilian agencies don’t have the authority to use it, which limits the government’s effectiveness in creating new products. The FAA is seeking to develop aircraft navigation systems that are compatible with its satellite-based system.

A request for information released this month seeks avionic technologies that can interpret data collected from the FAA’s new satellite navigation system, referred to as the Wide Area Augmentation System. WAAS is a system of ground stations that improve the accuracy of the signal from Global Positioning System satellites to provide pilots with more precise position data. Ted Urda, the FAA’s government/industry partnership technical officer for the WAAS program, said the RFI does not obligate the agency to enter into any new agreements.

“The intent of the RFI is to solicit information from the targeted market to determine interest in partnering with the government to achieve these objectives,” Urda said. It marks the beginning of a new effort that does not affect existing contracts, he added.

Advocates argue for expanding OTA
Lawmakers created the OTA approach to permit select agencies, including DOD and the Homeland Security Department, to negotiate agreements for research or prototype-building projects with nontraditional vendors. The authority fully protects contractors’ intellectual property rights, an important consideration for companies developing new products for an agency. Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, said OTA could be a valuable tool only if lawmakers extend the authority to cover development and production.

It also allows companies that are not traditionally government contractors to work directly with an agency rather than as subcontractors to other companies. However, OTA’s advantages have not been great enough to entice many such companies into partnerships, procurement experts say. The real incentive for a nontraditional vendor to enter into an OTA agreement is the chance to develop something it can commercialize.

“I think there is value in trying to push [OTAs] more,” Soloway said, adding that defense and intelligence agencies should use the agreement more frequently. “But I think it’s going to be limited. The key is how do you get around this research so that it gets to market.”

Other industry analysts predict that few agencies will follow DOD or the FAA because OTA rules, while fruitful if properly executed, require agency contracting officials to carefully word their agreements so they can provide transparency to Congress and conduct a fair procurement of any technologies the contract produces.

“Generally, it’s a pro situation, but these situations have to be managed very carefully,” said Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer at Federal Sources, a market research firm. “That’s why DOD, especially, has a lot of extra policies put on top of the decision-making process.”

Several levels of DOD contracting officers are involved in approving OTA deals, and reviews sometimes go up to senior procurement executives, he said.

Bjorklund cautioned that federal contracting officers who use OTA must understand products’ life cycles to ensure that they acquire any resulting prototypes fairly. If they enter into an OTA agreement and end up buying products that other contractors were already capable of producing, those contractors could have grounds for complaint, he said.

Such hurdles have limited OTA’s ultimate effectiveness, business analysts say. “It’s an authority that has to be carefully managed [because] it’s an authority that can really go awry,” Bjorklund said.

Soloway added that the limitations are unfortunate because the OTA model could enable the government to fulfill its long-term technology needs.

“There’s a whole world of the industry that will work with the government but won’t do [research and development] with the government,” he said.

What the FAA may offerIf the Federal Aviation Administration goes forward with using other transaction authority to get industry partners to work on new aircraft navigation technologies, the agency would pay companies when they reach certain milestones, including:

  • Completing a proposed concept and architecture to integrate aircraft systems with the satellite-based navigation system the agency uses.

  • Developing a research prototype.

  • Receiving approval for flight demonstration and data collection.

  • Submitting data on certification issues for tightly integrating Global Positioning System, inertial guidance and satellite-based augmentation systems.
  • Source: Federal Aviation Administration

    The Fed 100

    Read the profiles of all this year's winners.


    • Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump at a 2016 campaign event. Image: Shutterstock

      'Buy American' order puts procurement in the spotlight

      Some IT contractors are worried that the "buy American" executive order from President Trump could squeeze key innovators out of the market.

    • OMB chief Mick Mulvaney, shown here in as a member of Congress in 2013. (Photo credit Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

      White House taps old policies for new government makeover

      New guidance from OMB advises agencies to use shared services, GWACs and federal schedules for acquisition, and to leverage IT wherever possible in restructuring plans.

    • Shutterstock image (by Everett Historical): aerial of the Pentagon.

      What DOD's next CIO will have to deal with

      It could be months before the Defense Department has a new CIO, and he or she will face a host of organizational and operational challenges from Day One

    • USAF Gen. John Hyten

      General: Cyber Command needs new platform before NSA split

      U.S. Cyber Command should be elevated to a full combatant command as soon as possible, the head of Strategic Command told Congress, but it cannot be separated from the NSA until it has its own cyber platform.

    • Image from Shutterstock.

      DLA goes virtual

      The Defense Logistics Agency is in the midst of an ambitious campaign to eliminate its IT infrastructure and transition to using exclusively shared, hosted and virtual services.

    • Fed 100 logo

      The 2017 Federal 100

      The women and men who make up this year's Fed 100 are proof positive of what one person can make possibile in federal IT. Read on to learn more about each and every winner's accomplishments.

    Reader comments

    Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

    Please type the letters/numbers you see above

    More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group