DOD emphasizes education, requirements in acquisition reform

Improvements in employee training, contracting and buying practices under scrutiny

The Defense Department is examining its practices for buying weapons, and employee training and contracting approaches appear to be top priorities in the acquisition overhaul process.

According to industry insiders, the two-pronged approach is essential for reforming DOD's acquisition practices.

In a memo dated Nov. 19, 2010, Frank Kendall, principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, stressed the importance of improving the development of requirements for DOD goods and services and providing better training for the employees charged with buying, according to a Federal Times report.

The report cites senior DOD officials as saying that the changes could be enacted next year.

“Requirements development…has been identified as a weakness in the department and has led to cost and schedule overruns on many programs,” Kendall said in the memo. “Requirements development is paramount to successful acquisition outcomes.”

He also asked acquisition employees to take advantage of existing training opportunities at DOD. Those opportunities consist of courses that can last for hours or months, with many taking from two hours to five days.

“[I] am confident this additional training will help our programs to ensure more successful acquisition outcomes in the future,” Kendall wrote.

Calls for restructuring DOD's acquisition process are growing in the wake of Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ plans to shave $100 billion from DOD's budget, a proposal that was followed in December by a White House-led effort to identify further defense savings.

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Industry insiders say the fusion of employee training and improved requirements development will be necessary to catalyze DOD acquisition reform.

“The acquisition personnel community does need education and discipline in making sure to tie requirements to the art of the possible,” said Stan Soloway, president and CEO of the Professional Services Council. “But it would be a [mistake] to believe that alone will solve the problem. You can’t lose sight of the fact that requirements development isn’t always an acquisition exercise; it’s driven by the customer as well.”

On the requirements side, industry insiders say the way DOD buys goods and the goods it buys must be transformed for a 21st-century military. The need for services and IT is increasing, but the model for procuring those goods isn’t changing fast enough to keep up.

“DOD needs to implement modern, enterprisewide IT systems,” said Jacques Gansler, former undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, during a panel discussion on government acquisition held by Compusearch in December. “For example, right now there are 4,700 different business IT systems in DOD.”

Gansler also stressed the need for DOD to institutionalize a rapid acquisition process that uses short acquisition cycles and spiral development.

“We have to be more agile, do [acquisition] in small chunks, review and evaluate before moving on to the next chunk,” said Frank Spampinato, director of acquisition and contracting at the Federal Aviation Administration, during the December panel discussion.

On the employee side, more expertise and better training for an evolving workforce are also necessary for successful acquisition reform, according to speakers on the Compusearch panel.

“We need specialists in IT contracts, people who are familiar with the nuances of IT contracting,” Spampinato said.

Gansler pointed to the changing demographics of the acquisition workforce, including the growing retirement of baby boomers with years of experience and the increasing number of millennium-generation workers who are familiar with technology but lack the institutional understanding.

“A flexible, responsive, efficient and effective acquisition program for sophisticated, high-tech goods and services requires smart buyers,” Gansler said. “This requires both quantity and quality of senior and experienced military and civilian personnel, especially for expeditionary operations.”

The federal IT arena also needs to be better at attracting talented workers, said Soraya Correa, director of the Homeland Security Department's Office of Procurement Operations.

“We’re not making the acquisition career field attractive,” Correa said. “We need to focus on the mission; that’s what’s exciting.”

Still, Soloway said DOD's latest focus on training and requirements development represents an important step for acquisition reform.

“Enhancing training for the acquisition community is a positive step," he said. "It’s not going to solve the problem. There are a lot of steps. But this is one of the longest-standing, most difficult issues for DOD.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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