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DoD Bureaucracy Haters, Unite!

How many of you love bureaucracy? I suspect that if I could conduct a virtual poll on this question at any given moment the overwhelming answer would be “I hate it!” – and if a comment block was…

DoD Bureaucracy Haters, Unite!


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DoD Bureaucracy Haters, Unite!
Frank Kenlon (Prof of Int'l Acq, DAU/DSMC-Int'l)
How many of you love bureaucracy? I suspect that if I could conduct a virtual poll on this question at any given moment the overwhelming answer would be “I hate it!” – and if a comment block was available it would probably require censorship to keep remarks PG.

While I don’t love bureaucracy, as a career DoD Civil Servant and retired Navy reservist, I grudgingly appreciate its benefits despite the challenges it often poses. One of the key concepts we address in our DAU international acquisition courses is use of the Hegelian dialectical method – discussion and debate of a thesis versus an anti-thesis in order to achieve a synthesis – to arrive at a better understanding of the matter at hand. Let’s assess DoD international acquisition activities based on the thesis -- “bureaucracy should be eliminated whenever and wherever possible!”—in order to try to a bit more learn more about its impacts positive and negative on achieving successful outcomes.

Requirements Decisions

DoD domestic and international acquisition requirements are established many different ways including DoD Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System (JCIDS), Rapid Acquisition Urgent Operational Needs (UONs), Section 804 Middle Tier Acquisition (MTA), and analogous foreign partner/customer processes. All of them are bureaucratic to some degree, with JCIDS being the most complex and bureaucratic of all. Unlike JCIDS, MTA programs are able to establish their own acquisition requirements. Foreign nations’ requirements decision processes vary widely in their bureaucratic requirements. One would assume that DoD bureaucracy haters would love MTA, hate JCIDS, and be wary of foreign requirements processes.

Acquisition Decisions

Traditional DoD acquisition programs follow the “tailorable” DoD 5000 series policy. Rapid Acquisition programs have their own shorter, simpler process documented in DoDI 5000.02 Enclosure 13. MTA program acquisition policy is currently documented in several memos issued by USD(A&S) and Component Acquisition Executives (CAEs). Each CAE has a substantial amount of latitude to set up their MTA process the way they want. International Cooperative Program (ICP) acquisition decisions are made by the U.S. and partner nations collectively, with the U.S. acquisition decisions being made using one of the aforementioned DoD processes. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) acquisition decisions by DoD personnel are not required to follow any of these DoD acquisition decision processes, and no higher level DoD acquisition reviews above the PM or PEO level are required. Bureaucracy haters should favor MTA in domestic acquisitions and really enjoy the FMS acquisition decision process since it’s like that commercial on TV that says “no rules, just right!”

Financial Decisions

With a few minor exceptions, DoD domestic acquisition programs obtain funds via the DoD Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution System (PPBES) and the U.S. Government (USG) authorization and appropriation process. International Cooperative Programs (ICPs) rely on a combination of U.S. DoD and foreign partner funding, which is normally multi-year, colorless, and does not expire (three big advantages). FMS programs rely on either foreign funding or U.S. Foreign Military Financing (FMF). The House version of the FY 2020 NDAA repealed the DoD Rapid Prototyping Fund created in the FY 2016 NDAA. It currently takes two to three years of PPBES, OMB, and Congressional engagement to obtain new or increased funding. Not much for bureaucracy haters to like in this area except foreign ICP funding flexibility …

Contractual Decisions

DoD acquisition programs have traditionally used Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR)/Defense FAR Supplement (DFARS) contracts, but Other Transaction Authority (OTA) agreements – which over the years have fallen in and out of favor within DoD acquisition and contracting leadership circles – are currently being considered as a potentially quicker and more flexible alternative. ICP contracting generally follows DoD policies and practices, although it is possible to have a partner nation contract for DoD and partner requirements, which is occasionally done to accelerate the contracting process for all partners. FMS contracting – with a few waivers and deviations – also normally follows FAR/DFARS policies and practices. Other than use of OTAs and occasional ICP contracting alternatives, not a lot for bureaucracy haters to like in this area either …

Technology Security and Foreign Disclosure (TSFD) and Export Control

Generally good news for domestic programs. They don’t have to worry about dealing with USG/DoD bureaucratic processes in these areas unless they have international contractors or suppliers that are affected by USG export control requirements. The TSFD “system” involves overlapping responsibilities among a semi-autonomous collection of various TSFD processes colloquially referred to as the TSFD “Pipes” (see the Defense Acquisition Guidebook CH 1-S–9. Technology Security and Foreign Disclosure Processes for a list and description of these Pipes). These TSFD Pipes issue both broad and specific TSFD policy guidance applicable to all A&S, R&E and DoD Component international acquisition activities. If you conducted a poll of DoD International Acquisition Career Path personnel, TSFD system bureaucratic challenges would probably come in #1 by a large margin. The USG/DoD TSFD system is a bureaucracy hater’s nightmare!

International Transactions

More good news for domestic programs since, except for USG Buy American Act and other statutory requirements restricting foreign sources (e.g., Berry Amendment, specialty metals, etc.) or export licensing requirements associated with international contracting, there are no bureaucratic issues. However, the speed (or lack thereof) of DoD International Transactions to establish ICP, FMS, and BPC arrangements has been a major concern of senior leaders off and on for many years. One of the more vexing challenges that is not readily apparent to many observers is that the speed (or lack thereof) of these international acquisition transactions is generally a function of one or more of the above areas – requirements and acquisition decision making, funding, and contracting – so it’s often difficult to accelerate them. Bureaucracy on top of bureaucracy, if you will. This is why international acquisition sometimes seems like a bridge too far for acquisition professionals to cross, let alone bureaucracy haters who can barely deal with the domestic acquisition gauntlet.

Thesis versus Antithesis = Synthesis

If you asked a group of die-hard bureaucracy haters what should be done to improve the DoD international acquisition status quo, they would most likely recommend “blowing up the existing system up and starting over.”

If you asked a group of die-hard bureaucracy defenders what should be done to improve the status quo, they would probably recommend “this is the way we’ve always done things – all is well” -- like Kevin Bacon at the end of the movie Animal House … (spoiler alert – things were not well!)

While they may frustrate us, these six bureaucratic processes generally lead to an acceptable (if not) optimal level of enterprise-wide DoD international acquisition performance on a repeatable basis. However, most participants and many observers justifiably believe the net result takes too long and requires too much effort. How can we reduce transaction times and increase efficiency without losing the transaction quality and repeatability we’re currently achieving?

The synthesizers out in the workforce would most likely advocate taming and shaping the status quo bureaucracy in the areas with the highest payoff. What might those be?

Improving the Parts?

I admit that determining which parts of the existing DoD international acquisition process are causing the most problems is – as one of my more astute professors used to say – not a provable hypothesis. Too complex, too many variables. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue potential improvements. Here’s my subjective judgement on the areas that need the most taming and shaping:

#1 – USG/TSFD System: Thirteen (13) separate USG/DoD TSFD Pipes that issue separate guidance that DoD Components, Program Managers (PMs) and Integrated Product Teams (IPTs) at various levels of classification – including “burn before reading” – that must be understood and harmonized to design, develop, and produce one or more exportable system versions. Inventing unobtanium would be simpler …

#2 – USG/DoD Funding System: The end-to-end USG/DoD funding approval system has been a two-three year process since I started working as a DoD acquisition professional in 1980. Other than putting an “E” for execution in PPBES nothing has really changed in 40 years. If we want DoD rapid acquisition to work, we need find a systematic, rational way to provide funding for new initiatives in about a year (not three).

#3 – ICP Transactions: The FMS community has placed a substantial amount of emphasis on improving the speed of FMS transactions over the past few years. It appears that some progress in taming and shaping the FMS bureaucracy to improve FMS transaction speed is being made. Why isn’t there a corresponding emphasis on improving the speed of ICP transactions?

Improving the Whole?

I hate to disappoint the bureaucracy haters out there in blog-land, but I think the probability of blowing up and starting over in all six business process area mentioned above – requirements, acquisition, funding, contracting, TSFD, and international transactions – is infinitesimal. Each one of these six areas is based on a complex web of laws, regulations, policies and practices that have, depending on the area, existed from when the republic was founded to the post-World War II era.

Blowing up one of the six and starting over seem like a great idea, but will it really change all that much in an end-to-end integrated DoD international acquisition process where all six areas must be successfully navigated to achieve a successful international acquisition outcome? Seems unlikely.

Clausewitz emphasized the importance of harmonizing strategy and tactics through use of the operational art of war. He also highlighted the reality of “friction” in military operations, and the need to plan for and respond to its adverse impacts to achieve success. While DoD international acquisition is not war, it’s typically involves a constant, transaction-by-transaction struggle to harmonize all six these areas to achieve optimal outcomes for the U.S. and its allies/friends. Thousands of new international acquisition transactions are being established every year, and tens of thousands are being implemented. It’s a target rich environment for positive change!

A&S, R&E and the DoD Components must find ways to “train and equip” the DoD workforce, other DoD/USG personnel, and U.S. industry in the operational art of DoD international acquisition so they can deal with the holistic set of challenges they’ll invariably face in what is admittedly a less than perfect domestic or international acquisition system.

Final Thoughts

Plato (a pretty impressive critical thinker) provided us with a construct that could prove useful in our journey towards a better place to shape and tame bureaucracy, the “Platonic Ideal.” His philosophy encouraged people to strive for perfection in all their endeavors. In our case, perfection would be all six international acquisition areas re-engineered to operate optimally both individually and collectively while being able to process any type of transaction deemed to be in the U.S. national interest.

He also recognized, however, that perfection can never truly be achieved despite our best efforts. Accordingly, we should use our critical thinking skills and DoD international acquisition domain knowledge on daily basis at all organizational levels to identify and implement realistic solutions to consistently achieve optimal results in a less than perfect world.

Like the Navy -- which schedules comprehensive overhauls of its ships to remove the barnacles, refit hull, mechanical, and electrical components, and upgrade weapons systems -- DoD should consider working with USG, allied/friendly nation, and industry stakeholders to conduct similar efforts on its international acquisition bureaucratic processes. Stripping away the bureaucratic “growth” that accumulates over the years, and replacing old, outdated ways with newer, more efficiently ones, should not be left to chance.

In parallel, we should also strive to provide our workforce members with the education, training, mentoring, and experience to become masters of the operational art of DoD international acquisition. I hope to return to this subject in future blogs.

Until next time, Prof K