Senior military and civilian defense officials who manage large
Pentagon programs have said frequently in recent years that they
want to work "more closely" with the private sector.
The notion is epitomized in the phrase "civil-military"
integration, which is cited often by the Pentagon's top acquisition
official, Jacques S. Gansler, who also has stressed the need to
attract "high-tech small businesses" to the defense contracting
In the real world, however, when defense officials "deal with
industry," they in fact are talking about a handful of companies-the
large aerospace and defense contractors that have nationwide and
global presence, as well as robust representation in Washington,
So what happens to the medium-sized and small firms? How do they
get access to the decision makers in defense programs? The answers
are not clear-cut, but they point to a situation where the reality
hardly lives up to the rhetoric.
During a recent Air Force-sponsored symposium in Dayton, Ohio,
one industry executive articulated what appears to be a growing
frustration within the community of small defense contractors: "When
the Air Force [generals] say they want to work with industry, they
are only talking about Lockheed, Boeing, Honeywell [and a few others],"
He added that the Air Force principal deputy assistant secretary
for acquisition and management, Darleen A. Druyun, is reported to
have told industry executives during a private meeting that the
Air Force "does not have the resources to deal with a lot of
companies," so the service would prefer to only work with two
or three large firms and have them manage the smaller companies.
In response to written questions from National Defense, Druyun
said that her comment had been "taken out of context."
She explained that "there is no single 'cook-book' approach"
for how the Air Force works with industry. During the past decade,
she noted, the size of the service acquisition workforce has declined
by 50 percent, so "the acquisition community is employing a
variety of strategies to smartly execute its programs."
One of those strategies is the so-called total system performance
responsibility (TSPR), whereby a prime contractor is responsible
for managing subcontractor competitions. "TSPR is not a strategy
suitable to every acquisition," she added. "TSPR is not
a new concept in the Air Force and has been used successfully for
TSPR happens to be particularly controversial in the Dayton area,
said an industry source. A widespread perception among small business
executives and government lab engineers is that TSPR is only "a
good deal" for large primes, which gain control and visibility.
In the end, the source said, "TSPR only hurts the Air Force"
by diminishing the role of government scientists and engineers,
as well as the role of innovative small firms.
Several industry officials at the conference inquired how their
companies can get involved in high-level planning sessions called
"advanced technology councils."
Those sessions are quarterly meetings of senior officials from
the Aeronautical Systems Center (ASC), from the Air Force Research
Laboratory and from the Air Force major commands, which represent
the "war-fighting customers" of the various programs.
The ASC and the research lab collectively manage more than $12 billion
a year worth of programs.
Those council meetings currently are closed to industry, but that
could change, according to the commander of the Air Force Research
Laboratory, Brig. Gen. Paul D. Nielsen. "We know their [industry]
work has to be represented in the councils," Nielsen said in
an interview. "We are not sure exactly how to do that yet."
He also recognized that the Air Force has to maintain a balance
between working with large and small companies. "One of our
big goals is to reach out to everyone. We work with Boeing, Lockheed
and Northrop," said Nielsen. "But we also work with start-ups
around the country."
But it is clear that, when it comes to having "access"
to the senior military leadership, there is a large gap between
the haves and have-nots, said Don Huber, president of the Dayton-based
chapter of the National Defense Industrial Association, which represents
both large and small companies.
"I think there is a big division between the large and small
companies," said Huber. He believes the military services "would
like to see a more balanced relationship, where the large companies
are not calling all the shots."
A more "diversified" pool of contractors, said Huber,
would benefit the Defense Department because, if the Pentagon is
working mostly with large companies, "they are only getting
the large companies' perspective." The military services, he
stressed, "need to deal with a broader range of people in order
to get a more balanced view of industry."
It goes without saying that industry needs access to the thinking
of senior officers in order to plan their business strategies. In
Dayton, specifically, companies that do business with the ASC must
have a long-term local presence, said Huber. Only large firms can
afford to keep local representatives over extended periods, in order
to establish continuity, he said, as well as a "more comfortable
relationship" with the Air Force.
Defense Department officials "talk about getting more industry
participation," said Huber. "But there is a sector of
the defense industry that cannot get access to the Defense Department
thinking or establish first-hand contact with the leadership."
Small business executives, meanwhile, offered mixed reviews.
One way for small companies to gain access is to hire military
retirees, said Tom Harruff, an executive with Universal Technology
Corporation, a consulting services firm with offices in Dayton,
Albuquerque and Colorado Springs.
"Access [to information on defense business] could be better,"
said Jack W. Majewski, director of Macaulay Brown Inc., a Dayton-based
contractor that employs 250 workers. Even if the Air Force opened
the technology council meetings to industry, he said, only the large
firms could afford to participate because "it would take several
years [of marketing investment] before you saw any business come
And even though the Pentagon makes an effort to provide databases
of program and scientific data, the bottom line is that, in the
long term, small firms are at a disadvantage, said Tom McConnell,
an executive with Frontier Technology Inc., an engineering firm
in Goleta, Calif. That is because they don't have the capital needed
to market themselves and to enter costly competitions.