This article first appeared Oct. 30, 2019 in the Fall edition of the Professional Services Council’s Service Contractor magazine. It has been reproduced with permission. Links to DoD resources have been added since the original publication.
The office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment is revolutionizing the overall acquisition culture and redefining the way we do business. In December of this year, we plan to publish the most transformational change to acquisition policy in decades that will embrace the delegation of decision-making, tailor program oversight to minimize unnecessary bureaucratic processes, and actively manage risk based on the unique characteristics of the capability being acquired.
Delivering warfighting capability at the speed of relevance is critical to ensuring our warfighters are equipped with the capabilities they need to maintain a competitive edge. Our goal is to shift our approach to acquisition policy away from the traditional ‘one size fits all’ architecture, to an adaptive, flexible system that holds Program Managers (PMs) accountable for critical thinking, tailored strategies, and risk management. The DoD’s new Adaptive Acquisition Framework (AAF) does just that by streamlining a 170-page document to better enable the Department of Defense (DoD) to field effective and affordable acquisition outcomes, while simultaneously emphasizing transparency, speed of delivery, continuous adaptation, and frequent modular upgrades.
The Honorable Ellen Lord, Under Secretary of Defense Acquisition and Sustainment, hosted an Adaptive Acquisition Framework Training Event last month for over 150 attendees including hand-selected PMs and Program Executive Officers (PEOs) from across the Department, to discuss with senior leaders the re-designed DoD 5000 series on acquisition policy ahead of formal staffing and signature. She told these members of the acquisition workforce, “When I look at what my job is, I think it’s really twofold. One is to get capability downrange to the warfighter as quickly and cost-effectively as possible, and secondly, to ensure that we have a growing, resilient, and secure industrial base.” To achieve these objectives and keep the readiness of our warfighter at the forefront of our efforts, it is imperative we develop policy that lays the groundwork for a culture of innovation and enable creative compliance and critical thinking. The AAF is intended to achieve that objective.
The AAF structure allows Program Managers to utilize a single pathway or a combination of pathways to achieve their objectives based off of the capability being acquired. No Longer will PMS be overburdened by hundreds of pages of what they must do, but instead, will be encouraged and empowered to use creative thinking, innovative processes, and authority to look at what they can do. Collectively, the pathways reflect Ms. Lord’s intent to simplify acquisition policy, employ tailored acquisition approaches, conduct data driven analysis, actively manage risk, and emphasize life-cycle sustainment. This thinking extends to the Department’s new policy on Intellectual Property which we rolled out in October. The Adaptive Acquisition Framework capitalizes on advanced acquisition methods while also improving the DoD’s ability to benefit from commercial innovation (See Figure 1).
Within the AAF’s six pathways, the Urgent Operational Needs (UONs) and other rapid capability providers give warfighters the capability urgently needed to overcome unforeseen threats, achieve mission success, and reduce risk of casualties. As this is the DoD’s highest priority, the objective is to plan for the capability within a few weeks, conduct development and production within a few months, and field the capability within two years.
For acquisitions which require a PM to rapidly develop fieldable prototypes to demonstrate new capabilities and/or rapidly field production quantities of systems with proven technologies that require minimal development, the Middle Tier Acquisition (MTA) pathway can be utilized. This pathway allows PMs to conduct rapid prototyping within six months, and field that capability in an operation environment with five years.
The Major Capability Acquisition pathway can be used to acquire and modernize military unique programs that provide enduring capability. As a PM maneuvers through this pathway, they may find the need to acquire software intensive components by integrating the Software Acquisition Policy, into the Major Capability pathway. This is just one example in which the PM can customize the path to their desired end-state.
As advanced software is becoming critical within our technologically advanced landscape, the Software Acquisition pathway has been designed to facilitate software intensive systems and/or software intensive components or subsystems, focusing on rapid and iterative software capability to the user. Capitalizing on active user engagement and leveraging enterprise services, software is rapidly and iteratively delivered to meet the highest priority user needs. Tightly coupled mission-focused, government-industry software teams leverage automated tools for development, integration, testing, and certification to deploy software capability to the operational environment.
The Defense Business Systems (DBS) Acquisition pathway assesses the business environment and identifies existing commercial or government solutions that could be adopted to satisfy DoD needs. This pathway applies to all defense business capabilities and their supporting business systems, including financial and financial-data-feeder, contracting, logistics, planning and budgeting, installations management, human resources management, and training and readiness systems. Additionally, mission–focused, government-industry software teams leverage automated tools for development, integration, testing, and certification to iteratively deploy software capabilities to the operational environment.
The final pathway, Defense Acquisition of Services, allows the PM to acquire services from the private sector to include knowledge-based, construction, electronics and communications, equipment, facilities, logistics, medical, research and development, and transportation. This pathway is intended to identify the required services, research the potential contractors, contract for the service, and manage performance.
The goal of the Adaptive Acquisition Framework is to empower innovation and common-sense decision making through the decision-making process, while also maintaining discipline in our practices and procedures. We are changing the culture within the A&S community alongside these transformational policies. We have the acquisition and contracting authorities we need, we just need to think about doing it differently. Our acquisition system is designed to acquire quality products that satisfy warfighter needs with measureable improvements to mission capability. The AAF will shorten cycle times, enable program to rapidly develop acquire and deliver capabilities to the warfighter while also providing a new an effective policy mechanism to achieve our fundamental mission.
These significant policy changes are designed to change the culture of our acquisition professionals, but they should not be viewed as the panacea for improving our collective ability to deliver capability downrange to the warfighter. Defense Acquisition is fundamentally a team sport; one in which the acquisition community plays a critical but inextricably interdependent role with all other stakeholders across the Defense Acquisition Enterprise. This includes the requirements and budgeting processes as well as the test community, Congress, and industry. For example. The Department released its first policy on Intellectual Property in October to incentivize delivery of world class capabilities at affordable costs. Significant change in Defense Acquisition is not possible without a unified approach that encompasses the broader “Big A” enterprise. These acquisition policy changes should thus be viewed as one critical step in redesigning the entirety of the enterprise.
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