Critical Read

What can civilian agencies learn from DOD's Better Buying Power?

Shutterstock image (by alienant): An aerial view of the pentagon rendered as a vector.

What: "Beyond Business as Usual: Improving Defense Acquisition through Better Buying Power," written by Syracuse University’s Zachary Huitink and David Van Slyke and published by the IBM Center for the Business of Government.

Why: Better Buying Power is the latest in a long line of procurement reform initiatives from the Pentagon. The goals are to encourage more innovation from industry partners, obtain value from the scale of military acquisitions and, perhaps most critically, make sure that weapons systems aren't "a generation old the day they’re deployed," as one former Defense secretary put it.

Is the effort living up to its promise?

According to the report, some aspects of the reforms are going well, including efforts to produce cost estimates based on efficient contract performance. Other reforms are facing challenges, including streamlining the acquisition decision chain, at at time when some lawmakers want to restore the authority of individual service chiefs in the acquisition process.

Some vendors have expressed concern that reforms designed to incentivize industry are resulting in too many contracts being awarded on the basis of lowest price technically acceptable criteria, which is especially troublesome when the complexity of the goods or services in question cannot be compared on an apples-to-apples basis.

Despite the mixed results, the report’s authors say the Better Buying Power initiative has powerful lessons for civilian agencies. For example, the Pentagon's reform efforts demonstrate that there are strong forces at work to preserve the status quo, and risk takers must be aware that entrenched incumbents will be rooting for their failure.

Based on the findings, the authors offer three governmentwide recommendations: pursue agile acquisition, keep trying to build partnerships with companies outside the traditional contractor base and continue improving services acquisition.

Verbatim: "As the world becomes more chaotic, unpredictable and prone to present the U.S. with a wide array of security challenges, DOD must continue building on both its own and congressionally sponsored efforts to make defense acquisition more agile -- faster and more adaptive to changing circumstances."

Read the full report.

About the Author

Bianca Spinosa is an Editorial Fellow at FCW.

Spinosa covers a variety of federal technology news for FCW including workforce development, women in tech, and the intersection of start-ups and agencies. Prior to joining FCW, she was a TV journalist for more than six years, reporting local news in Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina. Spinosa is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Writing at George Mason University, where she also teaches composition. She earned her B.A. from the University of Virginia.

Click here for previous articles by Spinosa, or connect with her on Twitter: @BSpinosa.


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