“When I look at what my job is, I think it’s really twofold. One is to get capability downrange to the warfighter quickly and cost-effectively as possible, and secondly to ensure that we have a growing, resilient, and secure industrial base,” remarked The Honorable Ellen Lord, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment (USD(A&S)). “We want to make sure we have secure and resilient capabilities … the adversary is pretty sharp, and we now have vectored from countering violent extremist organizations to looking at near-peer threats.”
Lord spoke to an assembly of program executive officers, program managers, and senior acquisition executives at the Defense Acquisition University (DAU) September 25, 2019. The event, promoted as the Adaptive Acquisition Framework training, was held at DAU’s Fort Belvoir, VA campus.
Lord pointed out that the stakes continue to intensify by reiterating a key observation in the 2018 National Defense Strategy that notes “our competitive military advantage has been eroding.” The United States no longer has overmatch against countries such as China and Russia. Russia leads the second largest defense organization after the United States. Russia’s S-400 air defense system and the sales of fighter aircraft that China is buying in bulk from Russia were given as examples of critical warfighting platforms where the United States might have to work harder to gain an advantage.
The upbeat, yet unmistakably candid and forceful rhetoric demonstrated that Lord sees one of her responsibilities as inspiring a sense of urgency in the acquisition community against the threats we face. She referred to moving acquisition at the speed of relevance, despite the onerous compliance requirements mandated to implement acquisition. Creatively meeting compliance is how she recommends acquisition professionals figure out which authorities are needed to get the job done. Lord also advocated collaboration.
“I need your feedback to do my job,” she said encouraging attendees to use the event as an opportunity to network and share experiences and proven practices to develop solutions the Warfighter needs now.
“A 100% solution a couple years from now is not nearly as valuable as an 85% solution tomorrow,” Lord exhorted the audience. In that vein, she said that DAU is modernizing its approach to educating the Defense Acquisition Workforce. One decisive element of DAU’s modernization is capturing case studies of operators who have faced acquisition challenges and overcome them.
During the closing hour of the day-long event, Lord acknowledged that hearing a summary from the keynote speaker isn’t always helpful for her. She instead tried a different tactic by prompting the audience to tell her “one thing, small or large, that A&S can do to help you do your job.”
Heads turned but no hands went up. Directing the microphone handlers to start in the back row of the auditorium, Lord waited as the audience figured it out.
She expected to hear from everyone. For the next hour, the microphone passed from seat to seat as every individual stood, stated their name, and provided one thing Lord’s office could improve upon.
The comments covered a range of topics, were thoughtful and based on years of experience. Multiple suggestions were offered about the need to look at talent management, reforming the requirements process to be more adaptive, reducing duplication of effort across the services and sharing the use of technology and the security required to protect it in the cyber realm. Dr. Jeff Boleng, Special Assistant for Software Acquisition to USD(A&S), noted that software is the thing that changes the game, especially in the future fight.
One individual asked Lord to tell the good news about acquisition when she sits at the table with leaders from the Pentagon, Congress, and Industry. She nodded in concurrence.
Several asked that Lord document lessons learned, share examples of rapid acquisition, provide evidence of what is effective, disseminate best practices frequently and thoroughly, and streamline information sharing with allies and international partners.
At one point, Lord turned to James Woolsey, President of DAU, and said she depends on DAU to spread stories about acquisition lessons learned.
Turns out DAU is doing just that.
For the past year, DAU has enthusiastically tackled this challenge by initiating “Powerful Examples,” an effort to capture stories of innovative defense acquisition practices that generated results. Sharing these stories with members of the acquisition workforce is one way to help the ideas spread, potentially empowering acquisition professionals across the community to employ the practices within different programs. The investment is ultimately expected to propagate greater success throughout the acquisition community.
The Adaptive Acquisition Framework is a tool developed by DAU and the MITRE Corporation, and can be employed by acquisition professionals when considering how to get capability into the hands of the Warfighter. There are many paths and the AAF tool provides resources to help decide the best way or ways. Each path is linked to detailed information and the latest official guidance, including Middle Tier Acquisition authority memos.
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