DOD stresses testing, evaluation improvements

Darlene Costello

At a recent event, DOD's Darlene Costello said defining project requirements earlier in the acquisition process is a priority of the department's latest guidance to industry.

Although "test and evaluation" is far from the most glamorous piece of the defense acquisition puzzle, Pentagon officials are making the case that it is one of the most important.

As part of the Better Buying Power 2.0 initiative unveiled more than a year ago, the Defense Department is emphasizing test and evaluation earlier in the acquisition process in an effort to keep contractors better informed about what the department expects on projects.

Conducting tests and defining project requirements earlier in the acquisition cycle were priorities in developing DOD's most recent guidance to industry, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Darlene Costello said at a July 23 conference in Washington hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association. That guidance was developed by Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall, the senior DOD official leading the department's attempts to make buying weapons, IT and everything else less costly and more efficient.

If officials have not thought through issues such as project requirements, "how do we ask industry what to bid back to us?" Costello asked. "That's really [Kendall's] premise."

The goal is to maximize the information available to contractors before DOD issues a request for proposals. The strategy may extend to information that turns out to be inapplicable. In April, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition Katrina McFarland said the Pentagon was considering sharing potential procurement requirements with industry even if those draft requirements never take effect.

Another of Kendall's emissaries at the NDIA conference was David Brown, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for developmental test and evaluation. He called the RFP a critical moment in contracting.

Kendall "has stated multiple times that the RFP release is the most critical decision point in the life of a program," Brown said. "So it's at that point that we establish that vital partnership between defense industry and defense acquisition. And so the more information that transfers at that point and the better that information is, then the better we start our program and the better chances we have of acquisition success."

'Turbulent' fiscal times

Sequestration casts a long shadow over attempts to improve defense acquisition and, for some, makes reform more imperative. Congress narrowly agreed to a deal that avoided sequestration in fiscal 2015, but will lawmakers do the same for the next fiscal year? DOD acquisition officials have their doubts.

"Mr. Kendall believes sequestration in [fiscal 2016] is very likely," Costello told the audience of systems engineers, government officials and big-name contractors.

"It has been the most turbulent of a planning era over the last four years as we work through these budget dilemmas," she said, adding that contractors should make contingency plans for various levels of defense spending.

"We will not be able to afford all of the programs that we're even doing right now if we go into sequestration in the next year and that continues," Costello said. "There are more things out there that the warfighter would like to have that we're not even anything we can do to make our process more efficient and find some savings would be very beneficial to the whole enterprise."

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.

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