NDIA Urges Preservation of Government-Industry Dialogue
By Lawrence P. Farrell Jr.
On Dec. 21 National Defense Industrial Association President and CEO Lawrence P. Farrell Jr. wrote to Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter to emphasize the necessity for robust and productive government-industry communication, and to highlight the adverse impacts to professional and productive dialogue stemming from recent complex and restrictive conference participation procedures imposed on Defense Department personnel.
Dear Mr. Secretary,
Since its inception in 1919 the National Defense Industrial Association has served as a “communications bridge” between Department of Defense (DoD) agencies, offices and Military Components, and defense industry companies facilitating an important professional dialogue on the best and most efficient ways to support our troops with best-in-the-world products, services and training. NDIA’s many public conferences, symposia, exhibitions, workshops and seminars have been the principal vehicles for this collaborative exchange.
The legal and ethical exchange of information occurring at these NDIA forums has served to inform defense industry of government priorities, plans, challenges and needs, enabling better informed and more timely responses to DoD requests for information and proposals, while simultaneously offering industry the opportunity to inform DoD leaders about new and emerging technologies, capabilities and processes — and the need has never been greater.
This process of collaboration and understanding is now severely compromised. The need to engage on matters of common interest has become a “one-off” exercise for each conference. The complex levels and process of approvals have resulted in extremely late approvals (most recently the Friday before a Monday start). The substantive message seems to be “don‘t ask.”
In the past two years, defense industry has become increasingly anxious regarding DoD’s future acquisition plans, anticipating reduced contracting resulting from the planned drawdown and return of forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. Adding to that anxiety, today we face the enormous challenge embodied in the budget uncertainty created by the threat of sequestration. Whether or not sequestration occurs, it is relatively certain that severe budgetary impacts will be thrust upon the DoD, creating treacherous ripple effects throughout the defense industrial base. It is especially in such times of uncertainty that non-profit organizations like NDIA can be of tremendous value in keeping the lines of communication open between the DoD and its industry partners via conferences and other similar information-sharing vehicles. It is this very capability and the professional dialogue it spawns that is being severely constrained — one might go so far as to say “hobbled” — by the severely restrictive conference policy that goes so far as to single out non-federal entities like NDIA with virtually unexecutable constraints.
NDIA fully understands and supports the necessity to preserve scarce fiscal resources and is aware of the requirement for DoD to significantly reduce travel costs in Fiscal Year 2013 and beyond. In these times of fiscal stress it is more important than ever that senior leaders within the DoD have opportunities for collaboration and communication with their industry partners. Traditionally, the operating level executives in defense industry have relied upon conferences and symposia to hear directly from government executives (ex: program executive officers, program managers, science-and-engineering leaders, policy officials, etc.), and DoD officials have similarly recognized the value of getting their message out to a large focused audience. The severely restrictive nature of the published guidance is having the effect of constraining the traditionally robust government-industry communications flow by discouraging, and in many cases specifically precluding, government employee participation or attendance, adding yet an additional degree of frustration, inefficiency and general lack of awareness to the already ubiquitous environment of uncertainty surrounding the government-defense industry business environment.
In whatever way the current national fiscal crisis plays out, we are all aware that there will be significant (additional) changes — reductions in spending levels, increased program limitations/modifications and most likely more rigid contracting policies and procedures, to name just a few. My purpose in writing is simply to reinforce the fact that the flow of professional communication and dialog, so vital to a robust and productive government-industry relationship, has never been more critical, and at the same time never more constrained.
While NDIA and its affiliates will continue to pursue means to facilitate needed professional dialogue, it must be noted that such means have been severely limited and degraded, and that professional discourse on substantive acquisition-related issues is being stifled as a result. A quick look at the record should suffice to reveal that NDIA (and like organizations) stage very professional conferences where the focus is on security and war fighting needs. A revised conference policy for the traditional not for profit, non-federal entities that recognizes their consistent record of high quality professional events would unclog the very complex process now in place.
Given the complexity and awkwardness of the process now in place, proposing solutions is beyond the scope of this letter. However, NDIA does have some thoughts along those lines that we would like to discuss with you, at your convenience. Anticipating your consent to such a meeting, we will initiate scheduling with your staff.
Sincerely and respectfully,
Lawrence P. Farrell Jr.
Lieutenant General, USAF (Retired)
President & CEO