By Steve Kelman

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The Lectern: Naval Postgraduate School acquisition research conference

Every May for the last five years, the Naval Postgraduate School has brought together practitioners, "pracademics" (a cross between a practitioner and an academic), and academics for a two-day conference presenting research of various sorts on topics related to defense acquisition, particularly for weapons systems. The conference provides a nice window on what people in the acquisition community are thinking about. Some of the themes that seem to get mentioned a lot included: (1) competition is good for the government: Jack Gansler (senior Defense Department acquisition official during the President Clinton's second term, now at the University of Maryland) noted that the evidence is pretty strong that for major systems, competitive prototyping seems to more than pay for itself in terms of cost, schedule, and quality. (2) jointness across the services is happening: "Today everything is joint," a Navy participant said, at least to some extent (joint components, joint development of capabilities). "Young users expect capabilities to be joint" and for people to collaborate, somebody else said. (This person criticized the government's negative attitude towards social-networking sites and tools.) (3) with COTS, the challenge is integration and interfaces: the risk and cost moves from development risk/cost to interface risk/cost.

Compared to standard academic conferences, this was a guy event -- about 90 percent of the participants were men, there were a fair number of sports analogies, and PowerPoint slides of assorted weapons frequently looked phallic. I mentioned this to a senior government manager at the conference, who is a woman, and she said that compared to most conferences with DOD folks, this one had a lot of women, which she attributed to its academic nature. Everything's relative, I guess.

Posted by Steve Kelman on May 16, 2008 at 12:10 PM


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