Shyu: Congressional Acquisition Reform Bills in Line with Service Recommendations
By Allyson Versprille
Many of the acquisition reform proposals made by the Senate and House Armed Services Committees are in agreement with suggestions from top service officials, said Heidi Shyu, the Army's assistant secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology.
Both committees have proposed legislation to reform acquisition policies within their versions of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act.
Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, has proposed the "Agile Acquisition to Retain Technological Edge Act." The bill has bipartisan support and is co-sponsored by Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the ranking member of the committee.
"A lot of the recommendations [Rep. Thornberry] has come up with are very consistent with what we've recommended," said Shyu June 10 at a policy forum at Atlantic Council, a Washington, D.C. think tank. The think tank partnered with the National Defense Industrial Association to put on the event.
The bill states that the Defense Department acquisition process should be successful, proactive, agile and innovative. It stresses the importance of personnel reform — providing adequate training for acquisition professionals and reducing barriers to military officers hoping to pursue a career in acquisition. The bill also emphasizes the need to consolidate existing reporting requirements to eliminate unnecessary and time-consuming paperwork, and to encourage innovation by making the small business innovation research program permanent.
"Our office has been working very closely with [the office of the secretary of defense] in identifying" things that can be streamlined," Shyu said. The Army talked to colonels working on major defense acquisition programs and asked what non-essential steps were currently required to deliver a program on time.
"We've identified low-hanging fruit … to help us change the statute so we can streamline our documentation processes," she said, adding that reform will have to occur in a piecemeal fashion. "It's impossible to change the entire acquisition process in one chunk. You're going to have to do this in multiple parts. You can't eat an elephant in one bite."
Shyu, like Thornberry, stressed the link between acquisition personnel and a more streamlined process. She emphasized the importance of a well-trained work force. One way the Army is working on that today is through rotational assignments, she noted. These assignments allow general officers to work as deputy program executive officers before becoming PEOs so they can get the hands-on experience necessary to succeed on the job, Shyu said.
She also discussed areas of agreement with the Senate Armed Services Committee's provisions on acquisition reform. The Senate version also calls for improving the quality of the acquisition work force. Additionally, the bill attempts to develop alternate pathways to allow accelerated prototyping, enhance access to commercial contractors and reduce unnecessary requirements and reports.
"We need to push back on some of the requirements that are gold-plated," said Shyu. A program fails from the very beginning if it has unrealistic and unattainable technological goals.
"We'll spend a huge amount of money chasing after this gold-plated requirement, and I call it the death spiral" because contractors can't meet the unrealistic standard, she said.
Agreeing with the Senate bill, Shyu said the military should take advantage of technology developed by commercial contractors.
"I will say … the commercial world can move so much faster so we ought to take up what the commercial world is good at doing and leverage" that, she said. While, off-the-shelf products cannot replace many of the critical technologies being made in the defense industry, there is a lot of utility in accessing items developed in the commercial sector, she said.
User-friendly applications are one example, she said. There has been pushback against procuring some of these commercial products. Some top defense officials are reluctant to upgrade their equipment with off-the-shelf products, instead opting to stick with a "clunky user interface" because that's what they've trained their soldiers on, she said.
"I don't quite understand that," she said. "We need to think differently and leverage the world on the outside … and allow [companies] to have an avenue to do business with the government."
The process to acquire an off-the-shelf item today, even if it is non-developmental, is cumbersome and costly, Shyu added.
"We've got to test this thing to death before we get it into the hands of the war fighter," she said. "What happens — even on non-developmental items — we'll spend $17 million to go to an [Network Integration Evaluation] event to test it" and if it doesn't pass, it's got to go through yet another test.
"Somewhere this defies logic," Shyu said. "We're stuck in this rules and processes and statute world which is very …rigid. It's not flexible enough to allow us to move fast," she added.