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Expand Use of Available Acquisition Waivers and Exemptions
Proposal: Improve the speed and timeliness of acquisition processes by increasing the use of available mechanisms for waivers and exemptions, and by offering incentives for quick resolution of concerns. Identify and broaden the use of “best practices” by specifying aspects of acquisition approaches and techniques that are effective in the Special Operations community that could be applied more generally.
Comment: The acquisition and procurement process is too heavily bureaucratized, too slow, and too rigid to meet the needs of the Department. The Board is aware that the existing acquisition restrictions have legitimate motivations; and that many others have recommended an increase in flexibility. The Board thinks that those recommendations are correct and that it is past time to act on them. When the use of those authorities would bypass requirements that jeopardize the goals of speed and efficiency, balancing delivery to the warfighter against bureaucratic risk, officials should be encouraged to use existing exemption and waiver authorities more than they do today. In general, increasing decentralization will increase the Department’s agility.
One of the most important and recurrent themes the Board notes is the need for a multi-track acquisition system rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. Some acquisition experts respond by pointing to the existing flexibilities in the system. While those who have mastered the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and DoD 5000 may be equipped to tailor acquisition approaches, many of those who can, do not. The professional incentives to adopt standard, consistent methods and the deep cultural imperatives to reduce bureaucratic risk have created enormous pressure to conform, at the expense of programmatic or operational progress and efficiency. Unfortunately, some of the most onerous requirements for documentation and reviews may be avoided, consistent with law, and in that sense are self-imposed. Rather than continuing the common refrain of only improving acquisition education, new incentives and norms need to be established if these behaviors are to change. Consequently, further intervention to improve the acquisition system should be guided not only by emphasizing what is technically feasible under law and regulation, but also by observing which behaviors, good and bad from the standpoint of innovation, are most common, and working to align risk and incentives to increase the behaviors sought.
The Board also observed the contrast between the differences in the approach to innovation, acquisition, and fielding in the conventional forces and the Special Operations community. Special Operations Forces (SOF) have funding and authorization to conduct tactical level development, while the conventional forces do not. Consequently, the culture of SOF is different. The widely recognized agility of the SOF acquisition process is not due to US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) being more innovative per se, but because the USSOCOM systems and culture allow and encourage SOF to innovate in ways the conventional forces do not. To correct this, the DoD should identify how a rapid development capability at the conventional level could be established and allocate funding that can support those initiatives.
Background: Although few people have read the nearly 2,000-page FAR, those who have done so have noted that the FAR incudes specific language encouraging the acquisition process to be efficient, innovative, and agile. It is an open question whether this language fits with the multiple regulatory requirements the Department has layered on top of it. The FAR should be subjected to continuing scrutiny to test whether it strikes the right balance. Regardless, the idea of the FAR as a hidebound and cumbersome barrier to innovation and reform certainly endures. Even if knowledge of the FAR’s flexibilities became more widespread among those acquisition professionals viewed as most tied to the status quo, a culture that prizes large long-term, high-dollar value projects still pervades the DoD.
In our view, the current system works relatively well – despite the need for some well-articulated modifications – for large programs such as aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, and fighter jets. But smaller programs with specific and often more immediate applications, such as counter-unmanned aerial systems (UAS), should not be subjected to the normal acquisition process. The most egregious of these mismatches is software acquisition and procurement. There should be an entirely separate process for buying software whenever it can be decoupled from a system. There are current waivers, exemptions, and alternative authorities to facilitate this, but they are not used sufficiently, and they could should be revisited and expanded. Within the existing culture, they do not attack the root of the problem.
One way to do so is to ensure that acquisition professionals better understand and use available contracting vehicles that allow for a more nimble approach. As the DoD will require emerging technology at an increasing rate to offset any adversarial advantages, Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Funds (DAWDF) should be tapped to train acquisition professionals on the benefits of alternative contracting vehicles. In addition, the DoD should modify the incentive structure that typically rewards contract managers overseeing large long-term systems, so that contract managers will also be praised and promoted for managing shorter procurement cycles for technology that is equally critical to DoD but less visible or tangible than ships or planes. Without this culture change, which includes the spreading of best practices, no amount of education and training will be sufficient.
The DoD should also expand new vehicles and programs that, while not silver bullets, can help the DoD wean itself from the bulky acquisition process and respond to warfighter needs with the speed required to outpace competitors. Here are a few examples of what the department is already doing in this area: