Thornberry introduces DOD acquisition reform bill

While the DOD is working through major acquisition reforms mandated by the 2017 NDAA, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee is trying to streamline the way the DOD buys smaller goods and services and audits the process.

Photo credit: Sean Lyngaas
 

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee is looking to streamline the way the Pentagon buys.

As the Department of Defense works on the congressionally mandated split of the Office of Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, the House Armed Services Committee chairman has filed a new bill to further streamline DOD acquisition.

The Defense Acquisition Streamlining and Transparency Act, filed by Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), is designed to make the DOD "run more like a business" and use online commercial marketplaces for more of its purchases.

"If you're buying office supplies, you ought to be able to go on Amazon and do it," Thornberry told a gathering of reporters.

He said DOD currently has a choice between buying non-military items through the General Services Administration schedule, which he described as cumbersome, limited and more expensive, or going through a complicated contracting process.

"In 1994, there were three mandatory and three optional contract provisions for commercial procurements," he said. "Now there are 84 mandatory and 42 optional provisions."

Thornberry's bill states hopes to cut through some of this red tape.

"We take this step by step," said Thornberry. "DOD can say what you can buy and what you can't buy on these commercial online marketplaces, but I think they will prove out to be much faster, significantly cheaper, and I think it will catch on."

The legislation also aims to streamline the process of contracting services by requiring the secretary of defense and the military services to provide more data analysis "to support the validation of requirements for services contracts and inform the planning, programming, budgeting, and execution process of the Department of Defense."

The bill would require that starting in fiscal year 2023, the secretary of defense submit to Congress a full breakdown of services contracts by type and amount for each defense agency.

Thornberry said the bill applies primarily to office supplies or items like treadmills or even MRI machines that are standard commercial items used by the DOD. How the bill will apply to IT purchases is less clear.

"If some software or hardware could be connected to classified networks, you know, they may not want to take the chance because of supply chain concerns," he said. "I think when you get into the whole realm of buying IT commercially, they're going to have to think it through...that's one of the reasons I didn't want to dictate" that the DOD make all IT purchases through commercial vendors, he added.

The spirit of the legislation dovetails with the message that former DOD CIO Terry Halvorsen regularly delivered: unless there is a compelling argument otherwise, the default approach should be to purchase commercially available IT.

Other provisions of the legislation include reforming the audit process, eliminating barriers to data sharing for procurements and making sure that sustainment costs, intellectual property rights and development testing are ingrained in the early stages of the acquisition process. The bill also includes provisions to develop the acquisition workforce and to increase transparency in business systems and acquisition programs.

Thornberry said his bill is a discussion draft and he expects stakeholders to spend a month evaluating it and providing feedback for the next iteration. "The purpose of introducing it today is to allow industry to respond," he said.

At least one already has. Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president for public sector at the IT Alliance for Public Sector praised the draft in a statement.

"His proposals…come at a time when we are working with lawmakers, on multiple fronts, to pass reforms that will help the government modernize its aging and vulnerable computer systems. It's becoming clear that Congress recognizes the need to invest in technology, and we look forward to working with Chairman Thornberry and his colleagues throughout the NDAA process ahead," Hodgkins said.

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