Service Chiefs Want Changes in Acquisition Process

By Jon Harper
A close-in weapons system fires during a live-fire exercise aboard guided-missile destroyer USS Gonzalez (DDG 66).

 NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — There are major flaws in the current acquisition process and the sea services need to find better ways of onboarding new technology, the top Navy and Marine Corps officers said on May 16.
Speaking at the Navy League’s sea, air and space exposition in National Harbor, Maryland, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson criticized the way his service has been doing business.
“With industry we’ve got to partner more effectively,” he said. “One thing that I think we would all agree on is we have got to change the way we do business in a fundamental way to keep up with this rate of introduction of technology and opportunity or we will just fundamentally … fall behind.”
The Navy leader cited the requirements process as a key example of where changes need to be made. Too often, service officials will identify a problem, write a list of specific requirements and then put out a request for proposals, he said.
“By then it seems to me that a lot of it has been determined, maybe over determined, and so what I’m trying to enable is starting to enable that conversation much earlier in the process where we can open up the dialogue [with industry] in sort of the problem definition phase,” he said.
“If we tap into that creativity earlier … our partners will be able to provide a solution that we probably would not have foreseen,” he added.
In addition to working with traditional industry partners, the Navy needs to strengthen ties with non-traditional players in Silicon Valley and other technology hubs as it seeks new capabilities, he added. 
Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has been pushing that concept forward with his Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental initiative, which is designed to make it easier for commercial tech companies to do business with the Pentagon, Richardson noted.
The Navy also needs to do more prototyping and experimentation to more quickly separate the good approaches from the bad when it comes to technology development, he said.
“We can do that much more cheaply … [and] we will have more confidence that the tool we eventually place in the hands of our sailors and Marines, indeed all of our warfighters, will perform better and more reliably,” he said.
The paperwork required to respond to solicitations has gotten out of hand, the Navy chief acknowledged when a member of industry in the audience complained during the Q&A session. The service should simplify the process for contractors, he said.
“The system has kind of run amok and has resulted in these just monstrous documents,” Richardson said. “It can be a lot more succinct as well rather than … layers and layers of requirements that don’t really lead to more effectiveness.”
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller also criticized the way his service has approached the requirements process in the past. “We’ve got some guilt and, you know, sin in this deal,” he said.
Requirements need to be more realistic, he said, and the Marine Corps shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good as it acquires new capabilities.
“If somebody else has already got something similar, I think we need to be a little more flexible and say, ‘Well, that’s good enough’” if it meets 80 percent of the Marine Corps’ requirements. “There’s already a production line. I don’t have to wait.”
The commandant took a jab at industry, blaming it for slowing down the acquisition process in some cases.
“How do you go faster in this world when you’ve got rules that are designed to let everybody here compete and then — even if you don’t win the bid  — you get to protest?” he said. “OK, I understand that it’s business. … You’ve got to make money and you’ve got employees that you have an obligation to and shareholders. But we’ve got an obligation to the men and women in our service to give them new gear as soon as we can.”
The testing and evaluation process needs to be streamlined because it is delaying technology delivery, he said. This is especially problematic for the Marine Corps because its equipment is worn down from more than a decade of war, he noted.
“It just seems to be too slow,” Neller said. “There may be good reasons for that. But we’ve got to go faster because we’re behind in many areas.”

Topics: Cyber, Defense Department, DOD Leadership, DOD Policy, Infotech, Science and Engineering Technology, Research and Development, Test and Evaluation

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