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The Next Little-Known Flexible Acquisition Authority Next Little-Known Flexible Acquisition Authority2020-11-19T17:00:00Z,<div class="ExternalClass3D7A6435A6794A99B76EE486C17915BC">Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 provides promise after a colossally challenging year marked by a global pandemic. Private and public sector entities will attempt to regain a sense of normalcy. However, one issue remains constant—the United States undoubtedly will see additional and increasingly complex threats from adversaries as technologies advance rapidly. National defense priorities identified in the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) remain at the forefront of the Department of Defense (DoD) mission as the character of war continuously changes. To endure success and enhance its competitive advantages, the DoD must modernize its capabilities by creating and promoting the right environment, mindset, and tools to embrace innovation and reasonable risk-taking.<br> <br> DoD entities are using innovative and flexible contractual instruments more and more often to pursue the acquisition pathways outlined per the Adaptive Acquisition Framework (AAF). While a handful of options exist and are more commonly used, one authority continues to be greatly underutilized—10 United States Code (U.S.C.) Section 2373, “Procurement for Experimental Purposes.” This authority, while not new to the DoD, can be incredibly beneficial for DoD entities not only in their research and development (R&D) or science and technology efforts but also their procurement actions necessary to support various AAF pathways. Unfortunately, many within DoD’s acquisition workforce are unaware of the authority or do not have leadership support to utilize the authority. This article outlines the flexible instrument and provide valuable information to assist with modernized acquisition. <h2><img alt="Table 1 Information on PEP's Under 10 U.S.C 2373. Must be used for experimental or test purposes/efforts (supported by documentation). Must meet one or more of the nine focus areas. Are available for supplies, including parts and accessories, and designs thereof—services are not included, and their inclusion in the acquisition may only be tangential to the supply acquisition. Can be used to develop new capabilities, test new capabilities created by any source prior to fielding, and enhance and/or assess existing capabilities (examples include technical evaluation, experimentation, operational utility assessment, or to maintain a residual operational capability). Can be made with vendors inside or outside the United States. Not the same as agreements under OT authorities (10 U.S.C. 2371 or 10 U.S.C. 2371b) but is a companion authority to the OT authorities. Can support several AAF acquisition pathways. Can be awarded using competitive or noncompetitive procedures. Can be awarded by a warranted Contracting Officer or Agreements Officer, depending on the specifics of the legally binding agreement. No specified limit on unit quantities per purchase or agreement, so long as total quantities being acquired are needed for experimental or test efforts. No statutory or regulatory approval levels exist (entities should adhere to their entity’s internal processes or consult their legal counsel and HCA/SPE). Can be funded by various appropriation types depending on effort purpose (as determined by fiscal law)." src="/library/defense-atl/DATLFiles/Nov-Dec_2020/DefAcq_Nov-Dec20_article2_table1.jpg" style="width:303px;height:600px;margin-left:5px;margin-right:5px;float:left;" /><br> The AAF Defined</h2> The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (OUSD) Acquisition and Sustainment (A&S) published AAF guidance and associated acquisition policies in January 2020. The OUSD (A&S) AAF initiatives were created in response to the 2018 NDS that included an objective to reform the DoD’s business practices for greater performance. These policy changes were intended to make acquisition processes more timely, more agile, and free of unnecessary or excessive bureaucracy to deliver capabilities and technology advancements as quickly as possible to the Warfighter. The AAF outlines six acquisition pathways for DoD entities to select based on program size, risk, urgency, complexity, and other characteristics. It also permits entities to utilize a combination of pathways if a single pathway does not provide the most value based on the identified requirements. Visit the Defense Acquisition University (DAU) website ( for additional AAF information.<br> <br> DoD entities can select from a buffet of Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and non-FAR contractual instruments when implementing the selected acquisition pathway(s). Examples include, but are not limited to, contracting by negotiation (FAR Part 15), simplified acquisitions (FAR Part 13.5), federal supply schedules (FAR Part 8.4), other transactions (OTs) (10 U.S.C. 2371 and 2371b), and procurement for experimental purposes (herein referred to as “PEPs”) (10 U.S.C. 2373). Since there is no one-size-fits-all contractual option for each acquisition pathway, DoD entities must base instrument selection on their acquisition strategy and consideration of defined requirement(s), risks, and desired outcomes. <h2>Procurements for Experimental Purposes (PEPs) and Authorized Entities</h2> Under 10 U.S.C. 2373 the DoD is authorized to use PEPs for acquisitions of items in certain categories:<br> The Secretary of Defense and the Secretaries of the military departments may each buy ordnance, signal, chemical activity, transportation, energy, medical, space-flight, telecommunications, and aeronautical supplies, including parts, accessories, and designs thereof, that the Secretary of Defense or the Secretary concerned considers necessary for experimental or test purposes in the development of the best supplies that are needed for the national defense.<br> <br> PEPs are not new to the DoD, as the statute was enacted in FY 1994 at the same time as the Prototype OT authority (10 U.S.C. 2371b). Similar in purpose to OT agreements, but distinctly different in application, PEPs are another unique and flexible acquisition instrument for DoD entities to use (if they have been delegated the authority) that are not required to adhere to the major laws and regulations that govern traditional procurement contracting. See additional information on PEPs in Table 1.<br> <br> PEPs are flexible for various important reasons: <ul> <li>There are no federal laws or DoD regulations or policies that specifically define what is included in each of the nine focus areas. The terms describing the focus areas are extremely broad and open to reasonable interpretation. Thus, DoD entities can be creatively compliant with program requirements relative to the authority.</li> <li>Since the statute includes the terms “supplies,” “parts,” “accessories,” and “designs,” DoD entities can procure a wide range of items that may include platforms, systems, components, materials, drawings, and more. Unfortunately, one common type of acquisition is not included in the statute—services. The main focus of the acquisition must be on the supply item and any associated services that are acquired with it must be tangential to it. As currently written, the statute does not allow for an acquisition that is solely or primarily for services, even if the services fall within one of the topic areas.</li> <li>Neither the statute nor DoD policy limits purchases to a maximum dollar amount or quantity per PEP agreement. Quantities, regardless of number, may be based on the entity’s available budget and verification as long that the number is limited to what is necessary for experimentation or test purposes. As a result, DoD entities have individual discretion to establish and adhere to their own processes and procedures relative to agreement amounts (prices), quantities, or required approval authorities. Entities should be cautious, however, to not misuse this authority to purchase more items than are reasonably necessary for the test or assessment. The needs of each situation will differ but must be documented to ensure that the rationale meets the authority’s intent.</li> </ul> PEPs clearly are another innovative tool that could have significant importance to national defense and they have been supported by Congress for many years. Within the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2018, Congress required the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) to establish a preference for using PEPs and OTs when executing science and technology and prototyping programs. Additionally, Congress has expanded the list of topic areas regularly since the statute was enacted, signaling a continued interest in this authority and desire for its use. It is very important, however, that those who wish to use the PEP authority understand that this is a separate and distinct authority from the two OT authorities, as explained in Senate Report 114-49, Section 826. The agreements awarded under 10 U.S.C. 2373 will not be called OTs, but each will be a unique agreement with custom content and format. Entities are free to choose a name for these agreements as well as freely negotiate the terms and conditions as long as the authority cited in the agreement is 10 U.S.C. 2373.<br> <br> <img alt="Table 2. PEP's Versus OTs. PEPs Authority per 10 U.S.C. §2373 Can be awarded using competitive or noncompetitive procedures Can be used to purchase existing products for operational utility assessments DoD guide or policy memorandums do not exist Training not available to DoD’s workforce No DoD certification/credential program exists. PEPs and OTs. Authorities originates from laws (statutes) Support the NDS and AAF pathways Require leadership support (top level “buy-in”) Require team members with business acumen and experience across multiple functional areas Not appropriate for all DoD entities or efforts Major acquisition laws and regulations do not apply Involves negotiable terms and conditions Documentation required to justify authority use Can be used to develop new capabilities or enhance existing capabilities Can be awarded by a Contracting Officer/Agreements Officer Agreements can be written with commercial terms Can be funded by various appropriation types Future acquisition of larger quantities would be done wtih FAR-based contracts GAO has limited jurisdiction to review decisions/protests. OTs. Authorities per 10 U.S.C. §2371 and 10 U.S.C. 2371b Requires competitive procedures to the maximum extent practicable Can transition to a Production OT (if criteria met) DoD guide and policy memorandums exist Training available to DoD’s workforce No DoD certification/credential program exists." src="/library/defense-atl/DATLFiles/Nov-Dec_2020/DefAcq_Nov-Dec20_article2_table2.jpg" style="margin-left:3px;margin-right:3px;float:left;width:664px;height:500px;" />Unfortunately, not all DoD entities have been delegated the PEP authority. While the military Service Secretaries have the authority by statute and can delegate it within their organizations, the SECDEF maintains the responsibility for delegating PEP authority to the defense agencies. As of September 2020, only a handful of DoD entities have been delegated PEP authority by their leadership, including the Navy, Army (select commands), Air Force (select commands), and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Before any DoD entity plans to use this authority, workforce members must make sure that they have been properly delegated the authority. Personnel can review their organization’s “charter” within the DoD’s Directives library or consult with legal counsel to validate the PEP authority delegation. For instance, DoD Directive 5134.10, “Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA),” delegates 10 U.S.C. 2373 authority to DARPA and requires DARPA’s Director to establish PEP-related authorities and responsibilities. Alternatively, DoD Directive 5105.85, “Defense Innovation Unit (DIU),” and DoD Directive 5136.13, “Defense Health Agency (DHA),” do not delegate 10 U.S.C. 2373 authority to either DIU or DHA. <h2>Comparing and Contrasting<br> PEPs and OTs</h2> PEPs and OTs are both flexible and innovative contractual instruments. While they have similar characteristics, they cannot be confused with one another. Table 2 illustrates the similarities and differences between the instruments (NOTE: The information in Table 2 is current as of September 2020).<br> <br> DoD entities have utilized OTs with ever-increasing frequency and in greater numbers while PEPs rarely have been used since the authorities were enacted. The reasons are simple: (1) more DoD entities have authority to use OTs than those with authority to use PEPs; (2) the OUSD has published OT guidance and policies, but none for PEPs; and (3) the DoD has various training events specific to OTs, but none for PEPs. However, PEP popularity and usage will increase significantly if Congress continues expanding the PEP focus areas, the SECDEF delegates PEP authority to more DoD entities (such as DIU, DHA, and others), and the OUSD creates PEP guidance and related training.<br> <br> Table 3 outlines broad, hypothetical examples that can assist entities that highlight when PEPs would be an appropriate contractual instrument given a requirement (assuming PEP authority exists). <h2><img alt="Table 3. Examples for using PEPs. PEP Example 1. A DoD entity received authority and funding for a new program in response to a Government Accountability Office audit that identified the DoD did not have safe or effective medical products for U.S. Warfighters. Specifically, the audit found that DoD did not have adequate medical products or supplies to treat Warfighters’ injuries in battlefield settings. The new program was approved to follow the “Urgent Capability Acquisition” pathway from the AAF, with program requirements to expedite the development and distribution of safe and effective medical products for Warfighters. Significant experimentation, testing, and operational assessments will be required for some of the highest priority items, such as blood products, therapeutics, and vaccines. It would be appropriate for the DoD entity to consider using PEPs since the effort relates to one of the nine focus areas (medical), will involve experimentation and testing, and directly supports national defense. If the entity proceeds with a PEP, the entity should consider what appropriate future activities should be used to realize the program goals. Did the entity find an existing technology or product that would satisfy the entity’s needs? If so, a subsequent purchase of larger quantities would be planned and implemented. Did the entity determine that additional R&D efforts are needed to modify or amend an identified technical solution and improve its satisfaction of the entity’s needs? The entity could then consider proceeding with an R&D procurement contract or a Prototype OT agreement, depending on the situation. Did the entity determine none of the existing solutions were feasible, and therefore needs to start from scratch to create a new solution? Perhaps a grant or cooperative agreement would make sense. Remember, PEPs are not appropriate for purchasing quantities beyond those needed for experimentation or testing purposes. Also, there is no allowance for a non-competitive follow-on acquisition option with PEPs as there is with Prototype OTs under 10 U.S.C. 2371b. If an organization wishes to pursue a future acquisition, it will need to consider all of the available options, and the rules associated with each, to accomplish the subsequent requirement. PEP Example 2. A DoD entity needs to procure tablet computers and related communications equipment to better assist Warfighters in combat areas. Current computers and communications equipment in inventory are heavy, have short battery lives and slow processing times, rarely connect to cellular networks, and cannot be used for video-conferencing or to view presentations. Commercial technologies have advanced so rapidly that the DoD is considering leveraging the advancements for military use. The program anticipates that testing activities will be required before any new computers or communications equipment can be purchased for operational purposes or go into inventory. It would be appropriate for the DoD entity to consider using PEPs since the effort relates to more than one of the nine focus areas (signal and telecommunications), will involve testing and capabilities assessments, and directly supports national defense. PEPs can provide immediate benefits since time is of the essence, the effort will most likely involve the commercial sector, and the standard procurement rules and regulations, including the Competition in Contracting Act,) do not apply, allowing for opportunities to purchase test items from multiple sources quickly and on commercial terms. PEP Example 3. A DoD entity has a requirement to upgrade its existing aircraft (in the field for 10 years) that will provide significant improvements relative to the original aircraft form, fit, and function. Upgrades include modernized machine guns, modernized avionics displays, a lighter ballistic protection system for the cargo loading system, and a new communications system. Although all 300 aircraft in the fleet ultimately will be upgraded, the entity only plans to test 10 of them. It would be appropriate for the DoD entity to consider using PEPs since the effort relates to at least two of the nine focus areas (ordnance and transportation), will involve testing, and directly supports national defense. The entity, however, should carefully evaluate its acquisition and contracting strategy since it is only planning to test 10 of the 300 aircraft. PEPs are not appropriate for quantities associated with full-rate production or other quantities intended to be placed into inventory with experimentation or testing. Rather, PEPs should only include quantities for technical evaluation, experimentation, operational utility assessment, or to maintain a residual operational capability. Entities should strategically plan the use of PEPs and how PEP results could help inform plans for future Prototype OTs, FAR-based contracts, or other contractual instruments as appropriate." src="/library/defense-atl/DATLFiles/Nov-Dec_2020/DefAcq_Nov-Dec20_article2_table3.jpg" style="width:760px;height:1000px;" /><br> PEP Tips</h2> The following tips are intended to assist with PEP usage, including planning, execution, and administration functions.<br> Use the Authority. <h3>If You Don’t Have It, Request It.</h3> DoD entities that have PEP authority should seek to maximize their use of the authority to provide their workforce with yet another innovative acquisition tool that will help the DoD maintain its competitive edge. DoD leaders must proactively support authority usage and empower their workforce, especially since the DoD’s requested FY 2021 budget included the largest amount in its history to support urgent technology development. PEPs are ideal for entities with requirements in areas such as cyber, space, artificial intelligence, missile defense, ground vehicles, spares and obsolescence alternatives, medical supplies and devices, radios, and phones. Such areas are all but certain to touch one or more of the nine current focus areas outlined in the statute, but represent just a small sample of potential uses of the authority. It also is a useful option for entities that don’t have situations that would be appropriate for OTs and other innovative contractual options and/or that may not have RDT&E funding. This authority allows for entities performing operational or sustainment type functions to seek alternative products or solutions that may already largely exist in the commercial market for their ongoing needs. On the other hand, leaders of DoD entities that lack PEP authority should collaborate with their respective contracting heads and legal counsels or contact the OUSD through their respective chains of command to request authority. <h3>Include Personnel from Different Functional Areas.</h3> PEP subject-matter experts simply are not sitting idle or readily available on rosters within DoD entities. Also, since only a few DoD entities have PEP authority, PEPs most likely will be a new learning experience for many DoD personnel. To endure success with PEPs, DoD entities must assign dedicated personnel with diverse functional area experience to support the team from effort initiation and throughout the life cycle. Involvement should expand to, but not be limited to, personnel in program management, contracting, engineering, logistics, legal, financial management, cost estimating, and small business. Similar to OTs or any other innovative acquisition approach, PEPs require personnel with sufficient business acumen, sound professional judgment, and expertise with planning, executing, and administering complex acquisition instruments. <h3>Create PEP Guidance and Training.</h3> Successful PEPs require collaboration, confidence, and business competence. Each DoD entity with PEP authority should develop guidance to assist its workforce with PEP-related actions. The guidance should identify key responsibilities and provide best practices for personnel to follow, including warranting contracting officials and PEP planning, execution, administration, and reporting functions. An entity’s PEP approach will provide value to personnel and programs so long as the guidance is consistent with the flexibility provided by the statue and does not hinder innovation or creativity.<br> <br> To communicate and explain the guidance, entities should develop training to educate their personnel who are expected to perform or support PEP-related actions. Among other things, the training could encompass the statute, PEP significance to national defense priorities, the entity’s internal best practices and lessons learned, historical examples of PEP usage and applicability, relationship to other contractual instruments (FAR and non-FAR based), intellectual property and data rights, government property implications, and reporting requirements. This specific PEP training event will benefit personnel and programs because the DoD (including DAU) currently has no PEP training courses available to DoD’s workforce. <h3>Create and Maintain Appropriate Supporting Documentation.</h3> While PEPs are a flexible instrument to assist with certain needs, personnel must still create and maintain appropriate documents to justify and support PEP-related business activities. All DoD entities are responsible for ensuring the effective stewardship of taxpayer resources received and gaining maximum value for every dollar spent on national defense. PEPs are no exception. There are various forms of PEP supporting documentation that personnel should consider, depending upon the individual circumstances, including: need determination or requirements identification, market research or intelligence performed, designated approval authority, contracting or agreements officer, documentation explaining rationale, acquisition strategy, publicizing/soliciting/evaluating actions, schedules, transition plans, cost estimates, funds availability statements, agreement awards/modifications, and legal opinions rendered. Appropriate documentation will provide assurance that an entity’s PEP usage is efficient, effective, compliant, and adequate to prevent improper use of the authority. <h3>Conclusion</h3> As Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible, until it is done.” So long as technologies continuously advance and adversaries challenge the United States with new threats, the DoD will unquestionably seek to capitalize on innovation opportunities and advancements to respond to those threats. Experimentation and test activities, as a part of any acquisition effort, remain critical elements of DoD’s priorities, given the current environment. Also, DoD’s future priorities will certainly necessitate experimentation and testing to determine suitability and applicability to the situation at hand. Thus, DoD entities, where appropriate, should maximize PEP usage as another acquisition tool that may provide an appropriate path to providing the War­fighters with the technologies they need. Use the authority, cherish the authority, but certainly do not abuse the authority. <hr />Speciale is a Senior Acquisition Specialist supporting the Department of Defense. He is a Certified Defense Financial Manager–Acquisition (CDFM–A) and Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). Sidebottom is a Senior Policy Advisor with the Contracts Management Office at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Prior to her tenure at DARPA, Sidebottom was the Learning Director for Other Transactions at the Defense Acquisition University and has taught extensively about government contracting as an independent consultant. This article represents the opinions of the authors alone.<br> <br> The authors can be reached at <a class="ak-cke-href" href=""></a> and <a class="ak-cke-href" href=""></a>.</div>string;#/library/defense-atl/blog/The-Next-Little-Known-Flexible-Acquisition--Authority
Leadership Perspectives Perspectives2020-11-17T17:00:00Z,<div class="ExternalClass6552505DC5DA4D5FA6E737D56FA3720D">There are multiple ways and means to create a talented, ethical, and committed workforce. New and known tactics exist, including metacognition and meta-leadership, to attract and build tomorrow’s leaders, improve recruiting and hiring efforts, share knowledge, and manage performance.<br> <br> One other powerful way to attract and build tomorrow’s leaders, improve recruiting and hiring efforts, share knowledge, and manage performance is through perspectives from pupils, peers, or professionals. These two ways to develop individuals on their professional journeys are even better when combined with technological advances.<br> <br> First, there is metacognition or what I call “Meta-cognition, I think;” introduced as a concept by John Flavell in the 1970s–1980s, more specifically his 1979 work “Metacognition and Cognitive Monitoring: A New Area of Cognitive-developmental Inquiry.” defines metacognition as “higher-order thinking that enables understanding, analysis, and control of one’s cognitive processes, especially when engaged in learning.” Hence the society-quip and simpler definitions that metacognition is “thinking about thinking” or “knowing about knowing.”<br> <br> In practice, I like to think metacognition is something like the fishbone diagram technique where a person continues to ask questions for the sake of gaining multiple perspectives and richer, deeper thoughts about thinking rather than finding a root cause to a problem. Of course, reaching a root cause of a problem can be helpful, too, depending on the purpose of a person’s thinking about thinking. For a brief example, let us say a person answers a riddle with the first response that comes to mind. Regardless of whether the response is correct, let alone plausible, an answer was provided and can be thought about, reviewed, analyzed, and inspected. This is metacognition at work. Thoughts might include: What caused the person to answer? How fast was the answer provided? How did the person arrive at this answer? What experiences, knowledge, skills, and abilities influenced the response content? Would the person come up with the same answer under different conditions? Were other responses similar or different? The thoughts keep going, too! Now that you are thinking about thinking, let us look to another idea.<br> <br> Related to metacognition is meta-leadership, also acknowledged as a means to overcome silo thinking. I call this “Meta-leadership, I do.” According to Marcus, Dorn, and Henderson, in “Meta-leadership and National Emergency Preparedness: A Model to Build Government Connectivity” meta-leadership is “overarching leadership that intentionally connects the purposes and work of different organizations or organizational units.” If visualized, meta-leaders are those charismatic, wildly effective individuals traversing organizational lines to garner individual and collective success.<br> <br> Chances are you have seen a meta-leader in person, on television, or from a secondary source touting how influential a leader was that the source knew during their career. In my career, meta-leaders have typically exuded humble confidence, positive influence, slow-to-anger style, and nourished network linkages from every experience the leader can call upon at a moment’s notice.<br> <br> The meta-leader has a difficult-to-describe quality that quickly earns respect and trust whether due to known expertise or acquired acumen. Finally, meta-leaders leave an impression, a lasting mark on their pupils, peers, and other professionals. I mentioned that metacognition and meta-leadership are related because of the observation that meta-leaders seem to have a perspective beyond face-value impressions and simple thought. Instead, meta-leaders peel the layers of the onion back to defy operational, strategic, and tactical silos. Meta-leaders can actively think about thinking and build connections, fulfill purposes, and overcome obstacles. To me, metacognition and meta-leadership are all about transitional perspectives.<br> <br> On this previously shared mention of pupils, peers, and professionals, I offer how maintaining perspective during individual development garners benefits along professional journeys. It is worth noting that each perspective can easily overlap another simultaneously. And no, this is not a midlife crisis jab. Instead, it is a theory of how individuals develop from a vision of being a leader to being that leader. As each of us contributes to our constituents, regardless of the career field, we are pupils, peers, and professionals actively engaging and occupying each role. Striking a respectable balance of breadth and depth through our professional development may be as taxing as an attempt to be in two places simultaneously, but possible.<br> <br> The growth process begins with a majority of our time spent in a “pupil” status, like that of an intern, building each other as peers and eventually achieving the esteemed “professional” status. I liken this progression to being among the most junior in an organization and then reaching some levels of management before attaining a lauded leadership role.<br> <br> There is a saying about the importance of knowing where you’re going and where you came from so you know when you’ve reached the destination. This is how career progression is navigated. With that in mind, “pupil” is one perspective and frame of mind most are familiar with from firsthand experience. I firmly believe in achieving professional depth and breadth by several linked career objectives serving as a catalyst from one to the next. As a financial management intern with the U.S. Air Force (USAF), I ventured into a fascinating and beneficial career with the federal government. Because of my positive experiences, I have remained involved with the intern program since my 2012 graduation.<br> <br> In addition to internship, there are educational and training environments. Each day I actively build upon a growing history of professional military education (PME), on-the-job training (OJT), and other development (created or discovered) endeavors. I am a bit of a self-proclaimed nerd, better phrased as “education advocate,” so it was a wonderful irony to intern with the USAF’s Air Education and Training Command, let alone being stationed at an Air Force base nicknamed “the college of colleges.”<br> <br> Interning at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, the home of Air University, permitted me a range of “cherries” to add to the abundance of flavors and varieties of “development ice cream.” Whether in a formal academic setting or as an intern, I wore my “pupil” hat to arrive at a slogan I apply generously: “Any declination of an opportunity to learn is an example of stupidity.” From another point of view, “Why would anyone decline an opportunity to learn?!” While we should never completely abandon any of the phases of our journeys, it is important to remain aware and take advantage of all options to expand knowledge and development before moving forward. At the time of transition, a pupil increasingly will occupy a role of peer and professional.<br> <br> As a “peer,” one starts to peer over the horizon in some ways. During the transition of deemphasizing a “pupil” status and increasing the “peer” and “professional” statuses, individuals seem to progress by building networks across the globe, conducting groundbreaking research, exploring professional publication, and professionally practicing as a contributing, informal educator and mentor within the field.<br> <br> As an example of the “peer” status, consider a handful of brilliant individuals early in their technology-based careers like Michael Dell, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs. It is likely that a developing person will take on previously unthinkable challenges accompanied by a step outside of their comfort zone like a taste of the private sector, higher education, supervisory positions, or career broadening in a field vastly different from the familiar. The latter two challenges are often encouraged for federal interns because of the seemingly required experience leaders possess and the structure inherent with most career-broadening assignments. Both offer opportunities to develop, expand knowledge, and gain hands-on experience, though much more is obtained in hindsight.<br> <br> At present, I am interested in a range of opportunities best suited for peers and professionals, including Civilian Expeditionary Workforce experiences (i.e., deploying overseas as a civilian) and venturing to positions outside of my general schedule Financial Administration and Program Series. Personal and professional lives meld, giving way to opportunities for future leaders to be informal and formal educators, advanced professionals, and developers with a cohort of global peers. In any endeavor, individuals’ peer and professional choices seem based on the best interests of breadth and depth to become the best leader possible for pupils. So what’s next, now?<br> <br> Thus far we have discovered how to be in two places and fulfill two roles simultaneously as the earlier mentioned examples balanced the progress of “pupil” and “peer.” Let us now journey to the career’s ultimate promised land for many. The emphasis shifts toward the status of “peer-professional.”<br> <br> As stated before, we should never become too haughty and thereby abandon one status or another since life is an experimental journey of absorbing, retaining, practicing, and sharing. Each is an activity engaged in regardless of the status one claims predominantly to occupy.<br> <br> The famous John Kotter observed, especially in his book, Leading Change, that for many leaders, the idea is to “outgrow” the competition through lifelong learning and have the drive to do so. The pinnacle of a career, where we are most prepared and knowledgeable, is the time to fulfill what I view as a joyous obligation to return the priceless gifts we have received. As individuals develop through nurture and nature, it is time to shift a large percentage of our efforts toward developing those we lead. This may be accomplished by mentorship, creating opportunities, formal instruction, or avenues utilized by students like those mentioned earlier.<br> <br> If you are not inspired to give back once you attain the status associated with a “professional,” I offer my own experience. During college, as a pupil and peer, I gained an abundance of knowledge from some of the most admirable individuals I have met in life. My respect for my educational leaders and what each offered every day has proved to be perpetual. Though I now work in a different career field, I am still amazed when I reflect on my first experience with a college-level instructor. This instructor’s lecturing abilities, humble mentality, and inspiring approach effortlessly commanded the room of rambunctious dual-enrolled high-school and college students. What most exuded from this instructor was a passionate interest in the field of study. The instructor did not want students to stop at knowing enough to pass tests; the goal was to build a lasting thirst for knowing and learning about the world in relation to the future population’s power to modify it. I cannot speak for all of my classmates, but I do speak for myself and those I remain in contact with when I say that this instructor excelled, and many of the instructor’s traits are characteristic of the world’s best and brightest leaders: meta-leaders.<br> <br> As many agree, there are multiple ways and means to improve skills and mentor leaders. I have shared just a few ways: metacognition and traversing perspectives— whether one is a pupil, peer, or professional. These two ways to develop in our professional journeys are emerging trends that offer great benefits. Each of us is capable of occupying the statuses separately or in combination through our developmental efforts of absorbing, retaining, practicing, and sharing. Our only limitation to embodying more than one status is the mindset we adopt while balancing the goal of achieving breadth and depth as we dabble among the trio on our journey. Through metacognition and different perspectives, meta-leaders develop. <hr />Miller is a Financial Manager for the Defense Health Agency in Virginia. She previously supported the Air Force, Army, and National Guard Bureau at locations along the East Coast. She is a Certified Government Financial Manager and member of the Association of Government Accountants’ Northern Virginia chapter and of the American Society of Military Comptroller’s Washington Chapter, and a Certified Defense Financial Manager with acquisition specialty. She received her Doctorate of Business Administration from Walden University’s College of Management and Technology. The views expressed are the author’s own.<br> <br> The author can be contacted at <a class="ak-cke-href" href=""></a>.</div>string;#/library/defense-atl/blog/Leadership-Perspectives
Market Research— Promise or Problem? Research— Promise or Problem?2020-11-13T17:00:00Z,<div class="ExternalClass0F3C47D3896D481EB2AEDF10A8F876F7">Imagine that your program was interrupted by a pre-award protest. You published three Requests for Information and hosted multiple Industry Days to obtain Industry capabilities for the military system development you’re procuring. You issued a competitive request for proposals (RFPs) and then a protest was lodged at the Court of Federal Claims. The protester complained that your market research for the competitive strategy was unsuitable. Now the award of that procurement has been delayed pending results of the protest.<br> Your colleague down the hall decided to pursue a competitive strategy for her program. As part of her market research, she contacted knowledgeable individuals within the federal government who are administering contracts similar in size and scope to her program, and decided to solicit competitive proposals to promote full and open competition. Now she is preparing to defend her decision before the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in response to a pre-award protest. You and your colleague both performed what you considered due diligence—conducting what you reasoned to be extensive market research to identify commercial capabilities that could meet the government’s minimum requirements and essential mission needs. Evidently, your diligence wasn’t sufficient.<br> <br> Market research is the careful and thorough process to identify commercial products and services that will meet the government’s minimum needs. It will expand insight into the commercial marketplace to enable an understanding of how quickly technology is advancing, and to obtain information on industry capability and business practices.<br> When we focus too much on a strategy to procure products or services that will meet the government’s minimum needs, we may easily lose the broader view needed to identify commercial solutions.<br> <br> My first illustration was derived from a protest adjudicated in 2016 by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (Palantir USG, Inc. v US No. 16-784C). The court found that the Army was so focused on a developmental approach to a military system that it “failed to seriously consider whether commercial items were available.” Consequently, the market research for the military system development seemed designed to elicit responses that would support a predetermined conclusion.<br> <br> In my second illustration, taken from a protest decided by the GAO (B-244432), the contracting officer was certain that no small businesses could perform the library services he sought. His decision to solicit with full and open competition, and not set aside the procurement exclusively for small businesses, was solely the result of contacting other agencies, even though numerous small businesses had expressed an interest.<br> <br> The government in both illustrations appeared to rely on predetermined conclusions rather than adequate market research, and this resulted in unnecessary mission delays and resources spent on resolving bid protests.<br> <br> Sometimes, when we don’t know what we don’t know, we rely on predetermined conclusions.<br> <br> A predetermined conclusion may be more obvious, as in the protest of the award by the Labor Department (DOL) of a sole-source contract, resulting in a protest that the GAO ruled on in May 2018.<br> <br> As required by Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 5.207(c)(16) and 6.302-1(d)(2) DOL published notice that it intended to award a sole-source contract on Jan. 30, inviting companies to submit a capability statement by Feb. 7.<br> <br> On Jan. 31, however, a day after the notice of intent, the DOL procurement officer signed the Justification and Approval (J&A) for other than full and open competition, and DOL entered into the sole-source contract.<br> <br> In response to the protest, DOL maintained that the notice inviting firms to submit capability statements was a “mere formality” and that the consideration of the protester’s capability statement was “actually irrelevant” in determining whether the sole source decision was reasonable.<br> GAO, sustaining the protest, criticized DOL: <blockquote> <p>The agency’s responsibility to meaningfully consider (the protester’s) capability statement is not a “mere formality”. Rather, the agency’s actions in awarding the noncompetitive contract… are contrary to regulation, rendering the J&A, and the resulting sole source contract, deficient.</p> </blockquote> <br> Reliance on predetermined conclusions may not be intentional, but it may result from a lack of conducting thorough market research. Adhering to methodical or disciplined market research may avoid the protest plague from infecting your office. <h2>Market Research Methods</h2> Agencies may conduct continual strategic or broad market research to gain a sense of the market and to stay informed about overall market developments, trends and capabilities.<br> <br> Market research also may take the form of a focused or tactical approach relative to a specific requirement. Tactical market research is intended to provide in-depth information and answer specific questions about the capabilities, products, or services available in the market. The timing, depth, and extent of the investigation depends on the complexity of the procurement.<br> <br> Market research is essential to acquisition planning. Its purpose is to take advantage of commercial methods and capabilities and to provide data on products and services, industry capabilities and practices. Market research will enable best-value acquisition, optimize potential use of commercial items, reduce military-unique requirements and provide access to advanced technology. But who is responsible for conducting proper market research? <h2>The Acquisition Team Conducts Market Research</h2> We need subject-matter experts who can obtain the best results of market research. Market research should be a team effort. A contracting officer may not be qualified to conduct market research for biological dysesthesia dysfunction studies. Similarly, a 12-member team may be overstaffed for researching the ventilation-filter commercial market.<br> <br> The Requiring Activity should craft the capability information to be submitted by industry, identify form, fit, and function descriptions, review industry capability statements, revise government Performance Work Statement (PWS) or Statement of Work (SOW) based on industry responses, and determine applicability of commercial items and modifications to commercial items to meet the agency’s need.<br> <br> The contracting officer should issue pre-solicitation notices—requests for information and sources sought, and draft requests for proposals to promote early exchanges of information, host pre-solicitation conferences to involve potential offerors early in the acquisition process, and conduct other means of stimulating industry involvement.<br> Subject-matter experts, such as industrial specialists and intellectual property attorneys should be part of the acquisition team as required.<br> <br> In researching a market, you must gather all of the pertinent information on the capability needed in order to identify the availability and capability of commercial products or services that meet the agency’s requirements and mission needs.<br> <br> As the previous illustrations indicate, market research results should determine if sources are “capable.” This may appear logical and even obvious, but at least three factors should be part of determining the capabilities of the sources considered: <h3>1. To determine if sources are capable, you must know your requirement.</h3> The person or acquisition team doing market research needs to understand the requirement in order to focus effectively on market research.<br> <br> For example, the GAO sustained the protest by Triad Isotopes Inc. (B-411360, 16 July 2015) in finding that the agency’s market research could not have reasonably identified sources capable of responding to the requirement because it was too broad and did not align with the requirement.<br> <br> The agency’s market research stated objective was to award a contract to a contractor that can provide radioisotopes research and included online searches for NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) code 325412, and located 676 concerns. The agency concluded that it was likely to receive viable quotations from at least two responsible small business concerns.<br> <br> Triad Isotopes, Inc., protested the agency’s decision to issue a request for quotations for the acquisition of radiopharmaceuticals as a Small Business Set Aside, arguing that the agency’s market research was flawed because the NAICS code includes a large array of pharmaceuticals, including cold medicines and lip balms. In short, Triad asserted that the agency had not demonstrated that there was “even one small business that both meet the requirement and meet the delivery requirements” in the request for quotations.<br> The GAO agreed and sustained the protest.<br> <br> The market research unnecessarily restricted its scope of capable offerors because it did not align properly to the requirement and effective competition was unachievable. <h3>2. To determine if sources are capable, you must know your market.</h3> It’s important to know your requirement, and understanding what is out there to satisfy your requirement is essential for obtaining the most efficient and cost-effective solution.<br> In Red River Waste Solutions, LP (B-411760.2, Jan. 20, 2016) the GAO sustained the protest because the Army’s market research focused on prior Army contract history rather than customary commercial practices. In short, the market research failed to support its conclusion that its pricing terms were consistent with customary commercial practice.<br> The Army’s solicitation required the contractor to collect and dispose of solid waste in designated areas in and around Fort Polk in Louisiana.<br> <br> Red River protested the requirement that price proposals be submitted on a per-ton basis because the customary commercial practice for refuse collection contracts is to price such contracts on a monthly or per container basis—not on a per ton basis.<br> <br> The Army explained that its market research supported the determination that requiring per ton fixed prices was customary commercial practice because other Army contracts were priced on a per ton basis. And responses solicited from industry and a local refuse company both indicated that this was customary commercial practice.<br> GAO rejected the Army’s claim and sustained the protest.<br> <br> The Army could not require a contractor to perform a commercial practice that was not customary in the particular market; but more importantly, the conclusions drawn from market research restricted competition because commercial sources were unwilling to engage in an uncustomary practice in their particular market. Since the agency did not understand the market, the solicitation’s estimated quantities for the various contract line items were overstated. <h3>3. The results of market research should determine if sources are capable, not “technically acceptable.”</h3> The results of market research should determine if there is a reasonable expectation of receiving acceptably priced offers that are capable of performing the contract.<br> In 2014, the Air Force evaluated responses to its Request for Information (RFI) and industry day discussions and concluded that two of the small business firms that had responded were capable of performing the agency’s requirements as prime contractors. The Air Force limited competition to two small businesses under J&A. Analytical Graphics Inc. (AGI) (B-413385) submitted a protest to GAO.<br> <br> AGI argued that only one firm could meet 9 of the 10 salient characteristics described in the Air Force’s RFI and that a small business set aside was improper.<br> <br> GAO ruled that neither the FAR nor GAO decisions require an agency to request, or a prospective small business offeror to provide, a complete technically acceptable approach in response to market research. Agencies need only make an informed business judgment that there is a reasonable expectation of receiving acceptably priced offers from small-business concerns that are capable of performing the contract.<br> <br> Making a de facto source selection decision based solely on the results of market research limits the number of qualified sources and restricts competition by eliminating the government’s opportunities to leverage commercial solutions.<br> <br> Lesson from Triad: Make sure the focus of MR aligns with the requirement.<br> <br> Lesson from Red River: It is not reasonable to rely on other government contracts to establish what constitutes a customary commercial practice.<br> <br> Lesson from Analytical: The contracting officer must make an informed business judgment to show that the sources selected are capable of performing the work.<br> Market research is an enabler that will expand insight into commercial marketplace, determine how quickly technology is advancing, and obtain data on products, services, capabilities, and business practices.<br> <br> The impact of hasty or superficial market research may restrict competition to sources that cannot offer the best and brightest resources toward the requirement. Knowing your requirement, knowing the market, and understanding commercial capabilities will avert the lunacy of awarding a sole-source helicopter development contract to a single-engine airplane manufacturer and avoid wasting years of resources and millions of dollars on a contractor lacking the requisite experience.<br> <br> Finally, market research activities must be reasonable. For example, despite the interest expressed by six small business concerns to a pre-solicitation notice, one agency’s RFP had no small-business set aside. The RFP instead was issued for full and open competition.<br> <br> As a result of inadequate market research, the contracting officer determined that there was no reasonable expectation that two or more small business firms could perform the work. The market research indicated, however, that the contracting officer failed to take into account available information indicating the interest of capable small business concerns in the procurement.<br> <br> GAO ruled that the contracting officer did not reasonably consider a small-business set-aside and failed to take into account known information from the market research report that indicated interest from small business concerns. <h2>Conclusion</h2> Market research is flawed when it neglects to fully investigate possible commercially available alternatives to meet agency requirements. The lack of knowledge of the requirement, the commercial market, and industry capability each can have an impact on decisions related to full and open competition.<br> <br> When we think we know what we want, or may have formed a predetermined conclusion on the product, service, and the vendor, we risk not obtaining the full value of expertise and innovation that may be available in the commercial market.<br> <br> Additional information on market research and its impact on competition in contracting is available in the Training Library on the DASA P Procurement.Army.Mil (PAM) website at <a href=""></a>. <hr />Longo is an advocate for competition, task and delivery order ombudsman, and senior procurement analyst at Army Contracting Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. A member of the Army Acquisition Corps, he holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Baltimore and is Level III certified in Contracting. His assignments include acquisition specialist at the Program Manager for Chemical Demilitarization within the U.S. Army Chemical Materials activity and procurement analyst at the U.S. Army Legal Services Agency. He served in the Army from 1971 to 1973 at the Southern European Task Force, Italy, and was deployed to Iraq as a civilian in 2003. He authored the Defense Acquisition University (DAU) Continuous Learning DoD Purchase Card tutorial in 2003 and DAU CON 160 Competition in Contracting course in 2020. He has been an instructor for competition in contracting since 2004.<br> <br> The author can be contacted at <a class="ak-cke-href" href=""></a>.</div>string;#/library/defense-atl/blog/Market-Research—--Promise-or-Problem
An Air Force Acquisition Leader Looks Back… and Ahead Air Force Acquisition Leader Looks Back… and Ahead2020-11-12T17:00:00Z,<div class="ExternalClassF1A6846F4EA7425494DB34CDDE556D32">Lt. Gen. Robert D. McMurry Jr., then-Commander of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, sat down with Jim Woolsey, President of DAU, to discuss and highlight key insights attained over a diverse and distinguished acquisition management career, as well as the myriad implications of recent initiatives designed to accelerate delivery of Warfighter capability. Before retiring in September 2020, Lt. Gen. McMurry spent more than 35 years as a technical and program management leader. He concluded his Air Force acquisition management career as the AFLCMC Commander, responsible for total life-cycle management for aircraft, engines, munitions, electronic, computer, network, cyber and agile combat support systems, leading more than 28,000 people with a budget of approximately $300 billion. For roughly a year during the latter period, he also was the Acting Commander of the Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC), with additional responsibility for installation and mission support, discovery and development, test and evaluation, life-cycle management services and sustainment of virtually every major Air Force weapon system.<br> <br> <img alt="Airmen work on an anti-jam portable terminal for securing military communications at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, in September. " src="/library/defense-atl/DATLFiles/Nov-Dec_2020/DefAcq_Nov-Dec20_article3_image1.jpg" style="margin-left:3px;margin-right:3px;float:left;width:602px;height:350px;" />In a wide-ranging conversation, Lt. Gen. McMurry touched upon recent changes in Department of Defense (DoD) and Air Force acquisition management policy that continue to support the Warfighter with more rapid delivery of capability: Mid-Tier Acquisition (MTA) and agile software acquisition, to name just two. Diving deeper, he also explored the nuances of these new authorities against the backdrop of the bedrock functional activities and processes critical to successful design, development, delivery, and sustainment of complex weapons systems. Finally, he strongly reinforced the need for a professional workforce, providing views on organizational constructs as well as workforce training, skillsets and tools that will serve to engender a “speed with discipline” culture and increase stakeholder trust in the acquisition management system.<br> <br> Woolsey: Thank you for joining us. You’ve done a lot of things in your career: engineering and program management, sustainment of operational aircraft and work with new technology and space and electronics. You’ve been all over the map. And then you came to AFLCMC and covered the whole map in terms of life cycle and all kinds of different materiel. So you’ve seen a lot, managed a lot of people, and started applying some of that technology to sustainment with the RSO (Rapid Sustainment Office), which has received a great deal of attention. And sustainment often is neglected in the new technology area, so that’s really a jump forward. And you were rewarded for all that by your promotion to a bigger job for a year. Those 1-year temporary jobs sometimes are the toughest, for you filled in as the commander of the materiel command, and covered a wide range. We really appreciate that you came here to talk about acquisition and all the things happening within DoD. In all that you have seen, what looks different to you today than it did when you first started out?<br> <br> McMurry: Probably the biggest early change I saw was when DoD decided that we’re going to fund our programs to the independent cost estimate. That pretty radically changed the way the acquisition process was working. We were funded to the 50 percentile, and everybody was spending all their time going back, asking for more money, and explaining themselves. It took a little less risk, but I think we got what we wanted, which was greater predictability. That worked pretty well for a while, and then people were saying that we were a little slow.<br> <br> I think probably the most powerful change I’ve seen in decades is this middle tier of acquisition authority, and the Section 804 authorities. They are stunning. They drive us to a program decision much faster. They enable you to start a program to move toward a rapid prototype or a fielding activity that is accelerated by its nature. So you skip a lot of that time that we usually have spent in the bureaucratic decision-making process. This has been extremely powerful.<br> <br> I think that the most radical change we’ve seen recently is this move toward agile software acquisition. It kind of breaks the mold of how we have done it in the past. Our process has been very deterministic: figure out all the requirements, get your full plan, do your cost estimate, work all the way, document everything, and have a whole strategy. The agile software process really focuses on getting a minimum viable product in the field as fast as possible. I think that’s game-changing. But it’s unclear how it scales to bigger systems.<br> <br> <img alt="U.S. Air Force Lt Gen Robert D. McMurry Jr. is interviewed by DAU President Jim Woolsey" src="/library/defense-atl/DATLFiles/Nov-Dec_2020/DefAcq_Nov-Dec20_article3_image2.jpg" style="width:823px;height:295px;" /><br> Woolsey: We are set up for programs that start in a really clearly defined way, can run a really long time, and results in a predictable product. When the Soviet Union was our adversary that former approach was real convenient because things didn’t go so fast. And now we have to work faster. You spoke about agile in the context of software. How does agile fit into our need to build hardware faster? How are you experiencing that right now?<br> <br> McMurry: On software, our gains are pretty obvious. You shift from delivering software every couple of years to a point where one of our teams delivers it 40 times a month. It’s a huge shift. It’s not clear how that scales to hardware systems. I do think it has elements of the old spiral development. Get something in the field now. The power of that approach is not obvious from the beginning, but it becomes obvious as you start doing it, and then you look back, and say, “Wow, of course.” If you can field something rapidly, you build a level of trust with the users that you don’t have when they are waiting for half a decade or longer. Therefore, when you can, you want to field as rapidly as possible. But I don’t know how you apply that to a large system, such as a brand-new bomber or a nuclear submarine. In those cases, I think you may just have to go back and say, look we had a slower approach that delivered a system for a reason. And it has worked well for these larger programs. And we can use it; we don’t have to use the same tool for every problem.<br> <br> Woolsey: I think that the distinctions are the key. You talk about a long-range bomber and all that. Hondo Geurts (Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition), likes to say in talking about a submarine, “There are the wet parts, and the other parts.” And the wet parts have to build in a dependable long-term way, but the dry parts, can be adjusted, changed, and modified over time. Does that apply to Air Force materiel as well?<br> <br> McMurry: That’s actually a pretty apt way of looking at it. There are some things that you know will last forever, and they are absolutely safety-critical and mission-critical. There are times when you want to move a little slower. You don’t want to build an inadequate aircraft structure. It’s even clearer that you don’t want a submarine structure that’s inadequate. It has to be effective for the mission and for the long haul. And on those things we get the technical system engineering work done right. But the things that you have the power to iterate and work and that are a little less safety-critical but should evolve—I think those we have to look at how do you work with this minimum viable product concept and get things out. We will get better at that. Right now, the pendulum has swung hard to the agile side. And I think we’ll realize it doesn’t have to be a pendulum. There’s a spectrum of options here. And you can combine those options into a program that uses all of the different methods.<br> <br> Woolsey: There’s a mindset of doing things in a serial or waterfall way because that is how we’ve always done it. I think all over the enterprise that mindset is changing. It doesn’t mean that we’re going to build agile aircraft carriers or bombers; but the mindset is to get something going now and then adjust as we discover our needs and go forward.<br> McMurry: There are two things there. One is that you will regress to what you’ve always done. But I also think that we’ve got to get the idea in our head that incremental, rapid delivery doesn’t mean shoddy. It means: Do a small increment very well and get it fielded, get it into operations, and then your sense is that you’re delivering small, but I’m delivering quality.<br> <br> Woolsey: Dr. Will Roper (Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics) often talks about shorter production runs as a way to get things out there faster—and more different kinds of things. He harkens to the golden age of aircraft when it seemed that we were building a new design every few months. And now we seem to be in a pattern of multi-decade programs. Dr. Roper has the idea of doing faster, shorter production runs. What do you see as the challenges and opportunities there?<br> <br> McMurry: I love the strategy concept of making ourselves less predictable. Showing some variation—I think that’s great. I look back on the century series, though, and note that while every contract was set for a minimum buy, we bought about 15,000. We bought a lot. The idea of some variability, some unpredictability is very attractive. I’m very supportive of that. Right now, I think that our industry partners are saying that they are supportive. It’s not clear to me that their boards of directors will hold to that. This has to be a durable relationship. And it either has to be more profitable, a better deal, or the best deal they can get. And it’s not clear which we’re going to get to. If it’s the best deal they can get, you’re going to have more fights in getting there. And that goes back to the DoD, and Congress, and everybody having to line up and say that’s the way we want to do this.<br> <br> Woolsey: On the sustainment part, how is the balance working out? Obviously, shorter production runs mean that you have more types to deal with, which is more expensive. But some of the tools we’re developing are making sustainment cheaper. How will that play out if we do shorter production runs? How big of a sustainment problem is it if we have five different types instead of one?<br> <br> McMurry: Our challenge with supply chain is that we’re dealing in small numbers. In DoD, unless you’re buying boots and uniforms, you have small numbers, not hundreds of thousands. When you’re buying 75 or 100 or 50, getting supplier buy-in on that is a big deal. I think that it’s possible, but not trivial. And you know, it may drive higher costs. But then, again, it goes right back to that commitment that we need to buy the variability. And if we don’t buy-in on variability, we’re going to end up buying the same thing over and over.<br> <br> <img alt=" F-35 fighter jet " src="/library/defense-atl/DATLFiles/Nov-Dec_2020/DefAcq_Nov-Dec20_article3_image3.jpg" style="margin-left:3px;margin-right:3px;float:left;width:559px;height:300px;" />Woolsey: The Air Force and all of DoD face a challenge about how to modernize, how to get the new kinds of systems and weapons we will need. Given that the nature of the threat is changing on the one hand, and having to sustain the materiel and systems we have on the other hand, how do you view that balance today and where the tension is and what kind of choices we’re likely to face?<br> <br> McMurry: I have equated the problem to wing walking. You know, the first rule of wing walking is that you never let go of what you’re holding onto until you’ve got a good hold on whatever is next. And that’s kind of how we’ve approached our modernization. Even in areas where we’ve been willing to take risk, we haven’t been able to make the sale to the decision-makers in Congress. As a result, we’ve actually had a proliferation of systems—and that drives a growth in demand for program management product support.<br> Woolsey: Do you have anything in mind about how we’ll need to change? We certainly don’t expect to get more manpower. We don’t expect the trends of more programs to change. What kinds of things do you have in mind about how we can change business to make that work?<br> <br> McMurry: I think that you’ve got to look at two things. One of them is to give people the tools they need to do the job. In my mind, the tools are collaboration tools to be able to meet face-to-face, cut down the time sink of travel, and all the things that were necessary because we couldn’t connect. You must have good communication tools, and well beyond that, a good network to support it.<br> <br> And then you must train the workforce to raise their competency. You know, one really competent person is usually better than about five who are just trying to figure it out. So we’ve got to raise their skills higher.<br> <br> I also think that there are some organizational options. The Space and Missile Systems Center, under the tutelage of the Deputy Secretary of Defense, reorganized to shift away from just siloed product lines to where you are in the program’s phase. They call it SMC 2.0. I felt like we should do the same.<br> <br> Woolsey: In the area of organizational constructs, AFLCMC recently split the fighter and bomber groups into two different directorates. Do you see any other changes on the horizon?<br> <br> McMurry: It was such a large organization that the split was completely logical and necessary. I think that the next organizational changes will likely be driven by one of the ends of the spectrum. The F-35 fighter jet and how we support that is at the high end. The low end of the spectrum I think includes things like the Defense Innovation Unit, AFWERX innovation community, and this Agility One flying-car concept, RSO-kind of options for tech involvement, venture capital, and small businesses. Those could drive formation of focused organizations around that kind of work. We’ve made minor changes already there—what we’re calling the advanced battle management system or JADC2 (Joint All-Domain Command and Control). I think that those also will drive some adjustments to organizations moving forward.<br> <br> Woolsey: Like many acquisition organizations, you deal with the dual chain of command where AFLCMC has responsibility for acquiring, sustaining, equipping, and training the force while the program executive officer (PEO) to the Senior Acquisition Executive has a different chain of command very related to what you’re doing. What do you see as the issues there? How is that playing out for the Air Force?<br> <br> McMurry: I don’t like it; I don’t think it’s necessary. I think policy says it’s necessary at the PEO level. The PEO is not supposed to be a commander, because we really want them program focused I don’t think any young person ought to have a problem answering the question, “Who is your commander?” That said, we’re professionals. So we’re going to make it work, and I think that the concept of unity of purpose has to be embedded through both sides of that dual chain if we’re going to keep it. And we have to recognize the need for cross-flow of information. I need to be able—as the organize, train, and equip person—to make sure that your team, the PEO team, is as competent and well provisioned as it can be to execute that program. Well, that’s easy to say, hard to do, and not all things are equal.<br> <br> Woolsey: In many of your other interviews and your writing, you’ve talked about an area dear to both our hearts and our responsibilities: the workforce. Certainly, that’s in my wheelhouse as the schoolhouse guy and certainly in yours with such a large command. What do you view as the kinds of skills and thoughts that the workforce needs today? What do they need that’s different perhaps for these transformational times?<br> <br> McMurry: I look at what we need to be developing in our people’s skillsets, and what I want, in no particular order because they’re all important, is several things. I want them to understand digital design, models-based systems engineering, and how you take that digital process through digital thread, digital twin, all the way from design and design decisions to modeling and readiness for manufacturing. So digital enterprise—I want them to get that.<br> <br> In artificial intelligence and machine learning, we are way behind. Anywhere we can get skills in those areas I think is a big deal.<br> <br> I think we need to develop our skills in working and partnering with small business to bring in new technology. And then extending that partnering into venture capital—how we work with our venture capital partners to make these businesses attractive and then easily tailorable and connected to DoD. That’s a totally different domain.<br> <br> Data engineering and data analytics are keys to systems supportability. The Air Force is really trying to replicate the experience of Delta Airlines that, over a decade, brought data to drive reliability, engineering, and improvement to secure reliable performance from the airline’s fleet.<br> <br> And finally, training on supervisory soft skills. The root cause of almost all of our manning and personnel problems goes right back to the supervisor. We want our supervisors to be better at recognizing how they impact their people, how they set them up for a career, how they ensure their development, and how they can demand high productivity and still be a good, enjoyable person to be around.<br> <br> Woolsey: Are there any messages overall, any big themes you would like to leave the workforce with as you close up this chapter of your career?<br> <br> McMurry: I think as you look at this concept of agility and speed, my advice is: Beware of the waterfall. It catches us all. We have teams that say, “We’re constant delivery. We’re really agile.” Then they build a strategic plan activity that has many steps and doesn’t deliver anything for two years. We tend to regress to what we’ve always done.<br> <br> I think at the same time as we look toward this agility and speed, we’ve got to recognize that we didn’t get here by accident. Our system was built this way on purpose. It was built this way to avoid big problems we’ve seen before. So we’ve got to realize we have a breadth of tools and opportunities to make these systems work<br> We want every single one of our people to be an impact player. And to do that they typically need to be technically savvy. You must have competency in your area. You want to have good communication skills. You want to be able to explain to people why what you do is important, and your analysis and what it means, and you’ve got to be a good team player. When you get that, you get people who contribute, and they’re not the MVP minimum viable product, they’re the MVP most valuable player. And I want every one of my people to realize they can be the most valuable player. I think that DAU should set the culture for the professionals in defense acquisition. I want people to say that the people who have been trained at DAU, who go back and get trained over and over, are highly skilled experts. I think that you have made great strides in that direction, and it’s an ever-improving thing. We want people who look at acquisition professionals to say, it’s magic: They bring clarity of thought, purpose, and understanding of the complexity of our system in a way that creates real solutions faster than we can do it on our own. DAU sets that foundation.<br> <br> Woolsey: Well, I appreciate both the compliments for the progress that we’ve made and the challenge to do culture, which is the hard thing. We’re certainly working on that, and we’ll continue to do it, because that’s really critical. Supervisors will play an increasingly important role as we give people more options to design their own training and careers. The idea that lifelong learning is what we all need to do is different from getting Level III certified and being done.<br> <br> McMurry: I think that you continue to embrace the distributed learning laws that previously were at least a competitive advantage but these days are a necessity. You must find a way to educate people where they are with tailored education experiences. I think people appreciate that. If that course really helps the customers get to a better model and solve what seemed an unsolvable problem, they are going to be satisfied. And the most satisfied people will be their supervisor and their supervisor’s supervisor. They’re going say, “Thank God they sent them to DAU—they got the answer!”<br> <br> <img alt="Two senior airmen study a map" src="/library/defense-atl/DATLFiles/Nov-Dec_2020/DefAcq_Nov-Dec20_article3_image4.jpg" style="margin-left:3px;margin-right:3px;float:left;width:369px;height:500px;" />Woolsey: Was there anything that we haven’t touched on today that you’d like to talk about before we close?<br> <br> McMurry: In their acquisition career, our people need to realize how much impact they have. My advice to people is: Don’t overestimate your ability; but never underestimate your impact. The way we conduct ourselves, the way we work with our colleagues, the way we work with our extended DoD team, and the way we work with industry all set the tone for our national defense upfront.<br> <br> We have very capable defense professionals. I am proud of them every day. I’m proud of their ability to overcome seemingly insolvable issues and move forward, and to do that in a way that preserves future opportunities for everyone. I’m proud to have been part of it—and I will be a part of it in the long game, I’m sure. So thank you.<br> Woolsey: Well, thank you for your time today. It has been a fascinating conversation. And thank you also for your leadership, and all the roles that you’ve had and your service to the Air Force and our country.<br> <br> MCMURRY: Thank you, Jim. I appreciate it. It has been an honor and a privilege. <hr />NOTE: This discussion was edited for publication. See the complete interview <a href="">here.</a></div>string;#/library/defense-atl/blog/An-Air-Force-Acquisition-Leader-Looks-Back…--and-Ahead