“If we are truly in an interoperable domain battle, we have to be able to communicate and work together. We have to make sure we have the capability we need. We need to realize, a 100% solution a couple years from now is not nearly as valuable as an 85% solution tomorrow… Our mission is to ensure delivery and sustainment.”
The Honorable Ellen Lord, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, initiated this call to action at the Adaptive Acquisition Framework Training event for Service acquisition executives, program executive officers, and program managers September 25, 2019, at Defense Acquisition University’s (DAU) Fort Belvoir, VA campus as part of her efforts to provide senior leadership critical training and information needed to implement streamlined acquisition in the most expeditious manner while maximizing support for the Warfighter.
During her opening remarks, Lord also made a point to clarify her six goals for FY 2020: enable acquisition innovation; build a safe, secure, and resilient Defense Industrial base; ensure safe and resilient DoD installations; increase weapon system mission capability while reducing operating costs; promote Acquisition and Sustainment initiatives with key international partners; and recruit, develop, and retain a diverse acquisition and sustainment workforce.
Lord’s voice was one of many who spoke during the day. Panelists from various acquisition organizations offered input for overcoming obstacles within the acquisition community, as well as advice for achieving sustainable warfighting effectiveness and readiness.
The Honorable Kevin Fahey and The Honorable Robert McMahon joined forces for the first panel to provide insight into Defense acquisition and sustainment. As the acquisition culture continues to shift, both leaders agreed that the ultimate question for ensuring a successful, modernized workforce should not revolve around the mindset of “What don’t I have to do?” Instead, we need to be asking ourselves “What do I need to do?”
“From an acquisitions perspective, we have to change,” Fahey said. “We have to provide the tools and pathways and reform the training you receive.”
McMahon added, “We often limit ourselves with what we can do … You all have the responsibility for the what, we're here today to give you a better understanding and easier way to get to the how. This is about doing how differently.”
What works in programs was a key part of the event's highlight. Select attendees were brought on stage and given scenarios to test their ability to think critically when developing a solution. Using the AAF as a backdrop, participants stood on stage and thought through a variety of acquisition pathways and vehicles to address their challenge. Naturally, Middle Tier acquisition was one that came up frequently as a vehicle to quickly launch solutions.
Middle Tier Authority may be a gateway to starting fast, but it is not the panacea of acquisition – nor was it ever intended to be. Panelists repeatedly emphasized the importance of thinking through their requirements and purposes critically and tailoring their acquisition strategy to those needs and threats.
“As leaders, we need to ask the right questions to ensure our people have done the critical thinking,” Fahey said. “If you’ve done the critical thinking, even if it’s not the way we would do it, we will support you.”
This requires acquisition professionals to become comfortable with their own risk assessments and confident in their decisions, even if they buck traditional acquisition processes.
Lord touched up on similar sentiments in her closing remarks, noting that there is a “fear factor of risk” in the acquisition and sustainment workforce. She seeks to create an environment of acquisition innovation by steering the workforce in a direction that promotes a diversity of ideas and encourages acquisition professionals to build their confidence.
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