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Achieving International Acquisition & Exportability (IA&E) Speed of Relevance

DAU’s International Acquisition & Exportability (IA&E) learning content is designed to address the needs of both specialists and generalists in the Defense Acquisition Workforce – as well as…

Achieving International Acquisition & Exportability (IA&E) Speed of Relevance


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  3. Achieving International Acquisition & Exportability (IA&E) Speed of Relevance
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Frank Kenlon (Prof of Int'l Acq, DAU/DSMC-Int'l)
DAU’s International Acquisition & Exportability (IA&E) learning content is designed to address the needs of both specialists and generalists in the Defense Acquisition Workforce – as well as inform other government and industry stakeholders -- all of whom play key roles in DoD’s IA&E activities. This blog focuses on how DAU is attempting to help generalists succeed in the IA&E area when the need arises.

DoD’s senior acquisition leaders have emphasized “speed of relevance” as a key aspect of the evolving DoD Adaptive Acquisition Framework designed to increase agility and responsiveness to U.S. warfighter requirements. This same mindset is essential in DoD efforts to identify, explore, formulate, and implement international acquisition transactions that support U.S. national security and defense strategic initiatives to provide allied/friendly nations with the systems and equipment they need. USD(A&S) Ellen Lord recently included achieving timely international acquisition transactions as one of her six goals for the coming year for the entire defense acquisition community. (Listen to DAU IA&E Podcast #1 -- Why Do the USG and DoD Pursue International Acquisition & Exportability Efforts? – if you’re interested in learning more about why this is one of her goals.)

Domestic Versus International Acquisition Transactions

Most DoD acquisition generalists are familiar with the three essential elements of “Big A” domestic acquisition efforts:

  • Requirements (Joint Capability Integration and Development System (JCIDS), etc.)
  • Funding (Authorization and Appropriation process)
  • “Little A” Acquisition and Contracting (DoD 5000 series, Defense Federal Acquisition Regulations Supplement (DFARS))

However, most generalists are less familiar the five elements involved in “Big A” IA&E acquisition activities:

  • Requirements (as determined by allied/friendly nations rather than the U.S. JCIDS process)
  • Funding (provided by allied/friendly nations or special Congressional appropriations)
  • “Little A” Acquisition and Contracting (International Cooperative Program (ICP) and Foreign Military Sales (FMS) aspects of 5000 series and DFARS)
  • USG/DoD Technology Security and Foreign Disclosure (TSFD) and Export Control (not a factor in domestic acquisition)
  • International Transaction Mechanisms (which must be established based foreign partner/customer desires and U.S. laws, regulations, and policies)

Simply put, achieving improved speed of relevance outcomes in DoD IA&E transactions requires additional knowledge, expertise, and effort since there are five “Big A” IA&E acquisition elements that must be addressed (rather than just three) to be successful.

International Acquisition Transactions -- Division of Labor

DoD’s International Acquisition Career Path (IACP) and Security Cooperation Workforce (SCWF) experts are knowledgeable in all of these areas, but they are relatively few in number. As a result, they must rely on Program Management Office (PMO) and Integrated Product Team (IPT) generalists to help accomplish DoD IA&E transactions.

For smaller scale, standard IA&E transactions, the IACP and SCWF experts assigned to DoD Component International Program Organizations (IPOs) and PMOs/IPTs typically perform many of the key tasks themselves using automated systems and past transactions as a guide. For larger scale, more complex transactions, however, much of the work in all five of these IA&E elements has to be accomplished by PMO and IPT acquisition generalists.

As a result, DAU is working hard to provide the IA&E speed of relevance learning content and mission assistance support to everyone in the workforce to help them achieve Ms. Lord’s stated objective of improving the timeliness and quality of DoD’s international acquisition transactions.

Recent Developments

Fortunately, DAU has recently deployed two new IA&E lessons in ACQ 101 (Fundamentals of Systems Acquisition) and ACQ 202 (Intermediate Systems Acquisition, Part A) to help newly hired DoD Acquisition Workforce generalists work effectively with their IA&E specialist colleagues -- and other key stakeholders in the USG and industry – to develop and implement IA&E transactions that meet DoD senior leaders’ speed of relevance standards.

DAU has also posted several new online resources during the month of October – including concise, up-to-date “Introduction to IA&E” and “IA&E Transaction Planning and Implementation” Summaries derived from these new ACQ 101/202 lessons – to ensure they are available to everyone in the workforce who would like to enhance their IA&E knowledge.

Meeting Daily Challenges

Experience has shown that DAU’s International Acquisition online/classroom courses and websites – however useful -- are necessary but not sufficient. One of the biggest challenges DoD acquisition workforce generalists face in the IA&E area is dealing with the myriad of DoD and USG stakeholders outside the acquisition community who “grade their performance” in each one of five elements of IA&E mentioned above. Achieving IA&E speed of relevance outcomes requires “A” or “B” level performance in all five areas. “C” level work means your organization’s IA&E transaction eventually “passes” but only after a lot of extra work and many delays. Failing just one IA&E element – particularly one that is “graded” by State, NSA, other Intelligence Community members, or Congress -- means you “flunk the course” and your IA&E transaction does not move forward at all. You can’t even obtain relief from your Component Acquisition Executive, USD(A&S), or SecDef since they don't have decision authority for matters outside their purview. DoD senior leaders can ask other USG organizations blocking an IA&E transaction for higher level reconsideration, but this usually takes extra effort and causes delays.

This means that getting it right the first time in all five IA&E areas is essential to achieving IA&E transaction speed of relevance. While this may not seem metaphysically fair, that’s the way the system currently works. With thousands of IA&E transactions in process every day it can be a rough world out there for PMO and IPT members thrown into the fray.

How Can DAU Help?

While there a number of ways DAU’s International Acquisition faculty and staff can support you, here are three of the most common:

  • Ask A Professor: You can always ask your question via DAU’s “Ask a Professor” website. However, if you have an IA&E issue on your program that you’d rather have addressed more privately, send an e-mail to [email protected] with a short description of the situation. We try to respond with an initial answer in 2-3 business days to help you – in concert with your organization and DoD Component IPO – address and resolve barriers and stumbling blocks hindering your progress.
  • Networking: We routinely network with colleagues in the DoD Component IPOs, OSD A&S and R&E staff, Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), Defense Technology Security Administration (DTSA), and members of the USG TSFD and export control communities on IA&E matters. Last year we had a former ACQ 380 (International Acquisition Management) student in the USAF contact us for advice on a complex FMS transaction. We were able to connect him -- and his organization and DoD Component IPO -- with key players in DSCA, DTSA, and State. This helped lead to a very innovative solution developed by his organization that’s establishing a unique set of FMS transactions that will benefit the customer nations, the CoCOM, NATO, and U.S. industry.
  • Second Opinions: Obtaining thoughts and insights from the DAU faculty on a “non-attribution” basis often provides different perspectives that can help promote the critical thinking needed break IA&E logjams in tough situations. After all, we have over 100 years of IA&E experience in our organization so it’s entirely possible that one of us have “been there and done that" (or something like it) and have lessons learned that we can share. Probably enough said on this for now … just send an e-mail or give us a call and we’ll see if we can help.


Back when I was a “full time guy” in a DoD Component IPO, one of the DoD acquisition generalists I was helping observed that putting a complex DoD international acquisition transaction in place seemed a lot like the protagonist’s journey in Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey,” only longer and more difficult! However, after asking a few questions, it became apparent that this individual’s observation was based on what they had been told, not what they actually experienced themselves. In reality, they had a fear of the unknown based on largely on hearsay, most likely influenced by one person's negative experience.

We carefully analyzed the nature of the organization’s proposed IA&E transaction, assessed what needed to be accomplished in each one of the five IA&E elements, and helped put together an action plan to achieve a “B or better” outcomes in each element based on an aggressive, but realistic, timeline. Once this was accomplished, we worked with the organization to form a team of IA&E specialists and acquisition generalists with sufficient training and experience to implement the action plan.

To their surprise, their organization’s IA&E transaction was formulated, negotiated, and established at a speed of relevance that met all DoD and partner nation expectations. Once signed, the international acquisition program was successfully implemented, subsequently delivering the envisioned capability to U.S. and partner nation warfighters. Candidly, I was not surprised since, in my experience, successful IA&E transaction outcomes tended to be the rule, rather than the exception, when they were logically and professionally pursued.

While the formula for success requires knowledge, resources, and hard work, I hope I’ve helped persuade you that achieving the speed of relevance in DoD IA&E transactions is possible! Let us know how we can help you and your organization succeed.

Until next time, Prof K