Pentagon Acquisition Chief Aims to Reform Business Practices in 2019

By Jon Harper
Ellen Lord

Photo: Defense Dept.

The Defense Department plans to simplify some of its business practices next year to improve the way it works with industry and acquires new products, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer said Dec. 17.

One key reform will be creating more commonality in intellectual property policies, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord said. Rules and requirements surrounding IP have long been a major concern for contractors that worry that doing business with the government will harm them if they lose control over their secret sauce.

“We're writing intellectual property policy for across the department,” Lord said during a meeting with reporters at the Pentagon. “From an industry perspective, we are trying to be consistent across all the services and the agencies so that we don't have different requirements for similar [acquisition] needs. … We'd like to have the same type of contract language.”

Department officials will build on some of the initial work that the Army has done in this regard, she said.

Another initiative is to develop scorecards for contractor performance across a wide range of programs. This year the department has been analyzing data it collects about quality, delivery, contractor performance assessment reports and business systems, she said.

“We are rolling those up into scorecards so that when we talk to industry we can be very, very focused about what's going well, what needs improvement,” Lord said.

That will also enable the military services to have the same contracting data, she noted.

“What I'm interested in is having comprehensive data that characterizes performance in a meaningful way,” she added. “That will allow us to understand what we are getting for the dollars we are spending, and how timely deliveries are and the quality of the performance that we expect.”

Collecting sufficient data isn’t the problem, she noted. The difficulty is synthesizing it and condensing it.

“We have lots of data in lots of different places,” she said. “My challenge is … to consolidate that data into a one-pager, meaningful scorecard that differentiates between major programs and small programs, [and] that doesn't ignore service programs.”

That information will provide greater insight into the capabilities and fragilities of the Pentagon’s supply base, she said.

Additionally, having a data-driven scorecard would enable the entire acquisition and contracting community to understand current performance to inform new contract awards and incentive fees moving forward, she noted.

Lord also wants to take steps to simplify compliance with federal acquisition rules and regulations.

Over the past year acquisition leaders have distributed a “handbook” on other transaction authority agreements to contracting officials to help them understand how to use new rapid acquisition tools that Congress has given the Pentagon in recent years, she noted.

“We want to describe all of our acquisition authorities very clearly, and then the associated contract vehicles that are most appropriately and inappropriately used with those different authorities,” Lord said.

Next, the department wants to tackle the complicated and cumbersome Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement, or DFARS.

“In 2019, one of my key objectives is to rewrite [DFARS] 5000.02,” Lord said. “This is literally starting with a clean sheet of paper, looking at the law and the intent and working to vastly simplify this.”

To enable the acquisition system to move faster, contracting officers need to understand how to do “the absolute bare minimum” to be compliant with DFARS rules, she said. “I'm encouraging what I call creative compliance.”

“We need a couple-page outline of what you need to do, and simple contract language and simple checklists to go through so that this isn't an onerous process,” she added.

Lord said department officials might ask lawmakers for new authorities to help speed up the acquisition of new capabilities by cutting through bureaucratic red tape.

“If we need to go back to Congress and get some authorities to do that, we will certainly do that because I know that they are partnering with us and they want to make sure we do things in a simpler, more cost-effective manner," she said.


Topics: Acquisition, Defense Department, Defense Contracting

Comments (1)

Re: Pentagon Acquisition Chief Aims to Reform Business Practices in 2019

Well, we did not take into account all of the new Cyber Engineering requirements and time to properly address them for weapon systems vice the NIST/MITRE pervasive views that we are networks with wings; and we did not research how much the EPO's levy in additional reports that exceed hundreds of pages (Business Case Reviews, ASPs,...) ; and we did not push back at Congressional mandates (Clinger-Cohen for weapon systems is archaic). To quote from my naval aviation officer days when we built systems that crushed the Soviet Bloc toys, keep it simple stupid. Too much oversight, too much shelfware that I as an engineer (and was a PM in the past for billion dollar programs) find useless, too much cut-and-pasting of requirements, too many management and contracting officers getting recognition for pushing RFPs to contract in record times so we can suffer under ECPs and block upgrades for years, no mentoring of junior engineers (pushing them around before they complete one milestone in a program), and thinking DAY processes help one in every day engineering - not. Weapon systems are control systems period, so why impose ATOs and the AOs on us who know nothing about weapon system system-of-systems let alone RF? Time to get our hands around the engineering business instead of the management end that is a indirect support role and not a driving consideration for building weapon system that work the first time and go to the warrior as fast as possible, or as needed with identified risks that are technical, operational and not programmatic.

Change must come from the bottom up and not top down - TQ sense here.

So we now have the AAF to steam-line exactly what?

Too few Grey Beards left either civil servants of contractors like myself. TOo many young men and women strapped with university debt with degrees that are rather lean (EEs without electromagnetic fields and all programming; so how does that help us build integrated digital and analog and software systems with only ne leg of the academic milk stool being taught today? These kids will be obsolete with that kind of narrow minded academic training!)

Let's hold our breath … what we need are more Mr. Ropers. Werts, John Lehmans and Musks leading the DoD.

The latest CUI initiatives or lack of point to the problem as it is in even more stark terms - no one is thinking out of the box or in the outcomes of transforming anything but the names and keeping Congress thinking we have solved the real problems in acquisition. NDIA and in the commercial world where I also have worked are asking, what do we want. Why are we asking them to answer the question as we have had since Gulf War II?

Joe Yuna at 4:27 PM
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