LaPlante: Air Force Must Improve Relationship with Industry

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

The Air Force needs to improve its acquisition processes, which can be done by working more collaboratively with industry, said the service’s assistant secretary for acquisition Sept. 16. 

“It’s always better when ... you’re used to working together on common problems, so when a difficult challenge comes up you know each other and know how to work together,” said William LaPlante during a speech at the Air Force Association’s annual Air & Space Conference at National Harbor, Maryland.

The Air Force is currently working on its 20-year acquisition strategy plan, LaPlante said. One of the key priorities of the strategy is to foster better relationships with industry and become more transparent, he said.

Already the Air Force is working on a series of best practices, LaPlante said. Consulting with industry trade groups such as the National Defense Industrial Association — the publisher of National Defense — and the Aerospace Industries Association, the Air Force has come up with as many as 30 initiatives, he said.

One example is an effort to shorten the time needed to award a company a contract. It currently takes 17 months on average from the time a request for proposals is issued to when a company is awarded a contract, LaPlante said.

“There are a whole lot of things we can do together with industry to make this happen faster. It’s just unsatisfactory,” he said. “We’re going to try and bring that number down, maybe even in the single digits.”

The key is not to change the negotiation process, which should remain the same, but to arrive at that point more quickly, he said.

“We are about ready to issue a memo to all our PEOs and program managers with a lot of these best practices. We’re hoping to do the same thing with a lot of our industry counterparts with their companies so we can start to measure our progress against this,” LaPlante said.

Another priority in the 20-strategy will be to keep acquisition programs on track, he said. The service’s priorities include the F-35 joint strike fighter, the KC-46A tanker and the long-range strike bomber, he said.

The joint surveillance target attack radar system recapitalization program and the T-X trainer replacement effort are also important Air Force initiatives, he added.

Other goals mentioned included creating a long-term acquisition strategy and building upon Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall’s “Better Buying Power” procurement guidelines.

LaPlante did not say when the strategy would be released, but noted it is currently in the draft stage.

Air Force acquisition is currently the best it has been in the last five years, he said.

“We’re at full strength. We’re having time to put strategy together and align it with the Air Force strategy. We’re aligning it with the field of lifecycle sustainment and acquisition and it’s coming together,” LaPlante said. “[There are] a lot of good things going on, a lot of momentum. This is actually a great time in Air Force acquisition.”

Topics: Aviation, Defense Department, DOD Budget, DOD Policy, Procurement, Acquisition Reform, Defense Department

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