DOD To Improve New Rapid Acquisition Policy
The Pentagon is putting the final touches on a new policy designed to improve the Defense Department’s ability to respond to urgent requests from front-line forces for new combat capabilities, according to defense sources.
The directive being prepared for Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn’s signature would also establish a new mechanism to collect warfighter feedback on the utility of rapidly fielded systems.
The Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell in the Pentagon’s acquisition shop is drafting the directive-type memorandum, which would require heightened coordination by a number of Defense Department organizations including the DOD comptroller’s office, the combatant commanders and the office of the under secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, according to sources familiar with the document.
“It is pretty close,” said Thomas Dee, director of the Pentagon’s Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell (JRAC), in an interview with InsideDefense.com. “I’m hopeful we’ll get something done relatively soon.”
In addition, the Joint Staff is preparing an update to a related guidance document — Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction 3470.01, “Rapid Validation and Resourcing of Joint Urgent Operational Needs in the Year of Execution.”
Together, these two high-level policy adjustments are intended to address management shortfalls identified by the Government Accountability Office in an April report that concluded the Defense Department’s guidance for its urgent needs process is “dispersed and outdated.”
The Defense Department’s traditional acquisition system has struggled to keep pace with requests for new capabilities from U.S. commanders in Afghanistan since 2001, and Iraq since 2003, to deal with adversaries’ new tactics and techniques. Among the types of capabilities in high demand are those that improve intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; new systems to counter roadside bombs; and command and control equipment.
In September 2004, the JRAC was established by then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to clear away institutional barriers that interfered with timely and effective support of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The goal of the office is to support combatant commanders and not copy the functions of service-unique rapid acquisition processes.
But this “midlevel agency,” GAO said in its April report, does not have the bureaucratic muscle to shepherd a requirement through the acquisition system — particularly when it comes to identifying funding.
GAO also found that the Defense Department has not consistently availed itself of changes to the law Congress has provided to ensure the Pentagon can — where necessary — sidestep acquisition regulations that might interfere with rapid procurement and fielding of capabilities requested by warfighters. GAO found the Office of the Secretary of Defense “has played a reactive role rather than proactive role in making decisions about when to invoke these authorities.”
Aware of this critique after viewing drafts of the GAO report, Ashton Carter, the Pentagon’s acquisition executive, on March 29 issued a memo to service secretaries reminding them of the full span of authorities at their disposal to rapidly acquire a urgently needed capability.
“As the department focuses on winning the current fight, I want to ensure that your acquisition professionals are using all available authorities to rapidly conduct the procurement actions to satisfy our warfighters’ urgent operational needs,” Carter wrote in the previously unreported memo.
Carter has traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan three times as acquisition executive “to see for himself the kind of urgent needs that they have, to see for himself what is working well, what is not working well in rapid acquisition,” said Dee.
Joint Urgent Operational Needs — or JUONs — that are identified by the head of U.S. Central Command and validated by the Joint Staff as directly connected to operations in Iraq or Afghanistan “represent the acquisition community’s highest priority,” Carter wrote.
The military services “shall use all available tools and authorities to expediently develop, procure, field and sustain JUON solutions,” Carter directs in the memo, which includes a two-page attachment summarizing available rapid-acquisition authority.
Dee said the need for Carter’s guidance was identified while his office was reviewing rapid-acquisition issues with GAO this spring. “So the purpose of that memo is a reminder to the acquisition executives that once we get it through the requirements process, once we get the money, now it is in your hands, and we expect a level of urgency to provide things into the field quickly,” Dee said. “These are the authorities that you have, and — by the way — if you don’t think you have the authority, come to us and we will find a way to get you rapid acquisition authority.”
In July 2009, the Defense Science Board issued recommendations on ways to improve the rapid acquisition and fielding of new capabilities. That panel called for the Pentagon to formally establish two acquisition tracks, one for “rapid” and another for “deliberate” procurements, with “rapid” meaning “proven” technologies that can be delivered within 24 months of a validated need.
The panel also called for the creation of a “Rapid Acquisition and Fielding Agency” to oversee the fulfillment of certified, urgent warfighting equipment needs. Sources said the new directive being prepared would not create any new organization, but instead aim to streamline the process and utilize existing senior governance councils.
— Jason Sherman