Acquisition

USAF head praises OTAs, but warns on micromanagement

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Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told a Capitol Hill panel that she was pleased with new acquisition authorities, but said micromanagement is still slowing the pace of procurement.

"If you push authority down but you still require some of the sub-decisions to go all the way back up the chain [it] may not result in the speed that you really want," Wilson told the House Armed Services Committee in a March 20 budget priorities hearing.

Wilson said other transaction authorities, a contracting tool that allows the Defense Department to carry out experimental projects and rapid prototyping, were "tremendously valuable" but said that OTAs needed milestone decision authority, which allows programs or projects to move through the research and development process, at lower command levels.

The defense secretary has milestone decision authority over major acquisition programs. But for certain programs, such as costing and fielding estimates, independent technical readiness assessment, and the acquisition scorecard, that requirement can create a "strings attached" situation that slows down the development and eventual deployment of new capabilities, Wilson said.

"In general, I would say these are tremendously helpful. We are accelerating our use of them," Wilson said of the new authorities granted in the 2016 and 2017 national defense spending bills. "But there are few things that we need to make sure the details also get pushed back to the milestone decision authority."

Wilson’s criticisms follow comments earlier this month from Air Force Materiel Commander Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, who urged DOD and industry to see beyond OTAs as the latest contracting buzzword and come to a common understanding on where their best use makes sense.

"First of all we need to both understand what an other transaction authority means" and “not to expect more than what we can get out of them,” Pawlikowski said during an Air Force Association event March 14.

"We have to truly embrace this idea of experimentation in prototyping," Pawlikowski said, "Recognizing that we will spend money to build things that we will never buy because we will find out early it doesn't do what we really want."

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is a staff writer at FCW covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at lwilliams@fcw.com, or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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