Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), Chairman of the House Committee on Armed Services, has introduced his latest plan to increase acquisition agility and interoperability in programs at the Department of Defense (DOD), and while an iterative approach to true acquisition reform may be effective in the long run, too few steps may stall the momentum. The proposal, the Acquisition Agility Act, is a continuation of last year’s more extensive package in the Fiscal Year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and focuses on getting better technology faster at DOD. Keeping that mission in mind, ITAPS encourages Chairman Thornberry and other NDAA stakeholders to consider the following concepts as this year’s NDAA process continues:
- Access Commercial Items: Last year’s NDAA helped to swing the pendulum of commercial item preference back into efficient territory, but there is more that can and should be done to encourage DOD to leverage innovations developed in the private sector. Doing so will increase the vitality of the industrial base and welcome new and innovative solutions into the public sector market. For example, more and more defense-specific regulations are being flowed down to commercial suppliers, effectively erasing the benefits of conducting a commercial transaction. This sort of transactional behavior disincentivizes the private sector from having the government as a customer.
- Empower IT Management and Funding Flexibility: Government cannot effectively manage its information technology (IT) assets, understand vulnerabilities, and prioritize transitions to the cloud and other modernization efforts until it knows what it already owns and operates. Congress must also provide DOD with appropriate and accountable funding tools that provide flexibility and options to acquire and incorporate new capabilities at the pace of innovation.
- Streamline the Laws: More than two decades have passed since a complete review of acquisition statutes has been conducted to assess for duplication, redundancy, inconsistency, and effectiveness. Many regulatory inefficiencies and challenges in place today are derived from statutory requirements, so a review of regulations without their prescribing statutes will only address half of the problem.
- Replicate Success Government-wide: DOD continues to pave the way for improvements to the acquisition system, but civilian agencies should also benefit from such reforms. Many of last year’s advancements in commercial item acquisitions, for example, should be considered for application to the rest of the federal government to decrease unnecessary spending and increase competition.
Chairman Thornberry’s bill outlines his vision for DOD to keep abreast of IT innovation, and get it in the hands of the warfighter faster. He is proposing an open architecture plan for all Major Defense Acquisition Programs (MDAPs), promotes rapid development, test and evaluation (RDT&E), and looks to provide clarity around intellectual property negotiations.
While these proposals are encouraging, ITAPS members believe that other topics must be addressed in this year’s NDAA to give DOD the technological edge it needs to support its warfighters in the IT and digital combat zones. We agree with Chairman Thornberry that the challenges we are facing today simply cannot be addressed with a decades old procurement system and we look forward to working with the House Armed Services Committee to further ensure our military’s technological superiority.