Pentagon to Encourage More Frequent Interaction With Private Sector

By Sandra I. Erwin

By Sandra I. Erwin

Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work and Undersecretary Frank Kendall are asking all branches of the military and defense agencies to more actively participate in industry conferences as part of a broad effort to inject more innovation into weapons programs.

“DoD participation in conferences and similar events is critical to our ability to share information and break down barriers that block innovation,” Work wrote in a Sept. 23 memorandum to all military department and agencies. 

Over the past three years, government participation at industry conferences took a beating due to cutbacks to travel budgets and political fallout from the General Services Administration’s over-the-top 2010 gathering in Las Vegas.

Work and other Defense Department leaders have criticized restrictions on conferences as detrimental to the government’s ability to interact with the private sector and learn about the latest technological innovations. “Excessive restrictions on conference participation and attendance by DoD personnel have become counterproductive, undermining the professional development for communities such as our science and technology, medical and education personnel, and making it more difficult for them to come together with others to promote the free exchange of ideas that drive creativity and innovation,” he stated in the memo.

Work, along with the memo, issued a new “DoD Conference Policy” that updates current guidelines for conference approval in order to make participation “easier, not harder.” He assigned the deputy chief management officer as the key point of contact regarding conference policies. 

Kendall, the undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, carried a similar message in an Aug. 6 memorandum titled, “Importance of Strategic Outreach Targeting Small Business, Commercial Markets and Global Technologies Through Industry Forums.”

He advised that it is “important for the acquisition community, particularly DoD small business professionals and those who conduct international acquisitions, to engage with industry and participate in industry forums and outreach events.”

The Pentagon needs “exposure and access to new technology” in order to “maintain our technological superiority,” Kendall said. “We also need to encourage entrepreneurs and non-traditional suppliers to bring their ideas into the department through business with DoD.” Face-to-face interaction, he added, is an “effective way to gain exposure, create access and remove barriers to commercial technologies.” 

Curtailing participation of DoD personnel at conferences to save money on travel costs can be detrimental, Kendall noted, because it “constrains their ability to conduct their mission.”

Kendall asked all agency and military service leaders to “emphasize the importance of industry outreach to small businesses and global commercial markets.” By improving communications, he added, “we will promote effective competition, receive better proposals from industry and obtain more innovative solutions.”

This guidance should not be viewed as a license to overspend, he cautioned, but to “be fiscally responsible and strategically focused on outreach with results.”

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Leadership, DOD Policy, Procurement

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