A good jungle boot is one of a Soldier’s bare necessities—and the system for providing those necessities would make Mowgli’s head spin. Mowgli had to deal with jungle cats; he never had to deal with an ACAT III. Unfortunately, Soldiers do.
by Donald Schlomer, Lt. Col., USA (Ret.)
Mowgli, the hero of Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 classic “The Jungle Book,” did perfectly well without boots or even shoes. U.S. Soldiers, however, have different needs. Soldiers in the U.S. Army have not had a new jungle boot since the Vietnam era, and with the request for a new jungle boot—well, therein lies a tale, but a tale far less straightforward than Kipling’s famous collection of fables about the “man-cub” Mowgli, who lived in a jungle protected by a bear and a panther.
Indeed, the story of the jungle boot may be a cautionary fable about how good intentions can go systematically wrong. Mowgli had to deal with all manner of animals, including one very unpleasant cat. Shere Khan was all speed and stealth. The same cannot be said of the cat that haunts Soldiers: ACAT III, the acquisition category into which any procurement under $835 million falls. An ACAT III acquisition is clumsy and slow, utterly lacking in speed or stealth and with enough bureaucratic red tape to overwhelm even the toughest of Soldiers.
Almost anyone in the developed world can acquire a pair of boots at a brick-and-mortar retailer or from an online source within a few days. For a Soldier, such a simple acquisition might take more than two and a half years. The 25th Infantry Division, it was recently announced, will begin receiving jungle boots to use and test through a “rapid acquisition” by personnel within product manager for Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment in the Program Executive Office for Soldier. The rapid acquisition was used to acquire a product for a specific unit to achieve a specific mission. In this case, test the boot for three months. The jungle boot they receive will not be the Jungle Boot. The rest of the Army and other services will have to wait. Because of this testing, they may even have to wait longer.
Why? The answer, simply, is the mandatory use of the Defense Acquisition System (DAS). The basic timeline within the system for delivery of an ACAT III need is 926 days. The Joint Capabilities Integrated Development System (JCIDS) approval process is approximately 506 days. (See Table 1.0.) Funding, contracting and delivering the boot takes approximately 420 days. To understand why obtaining such a simple item takes so long through the DAS, we begin the journey after the Army has realized Soldiers do not have a jungle boot.
The JCIDS process started in 2003 to address the buying of products that did not interoperate between the different branches of the military. The JCIDS manual in 2003 was 91 pages long; today, after seven iterations through which the Army leadership attempted to simplify the process, the manual is more than 420 pages.
Today, JCIDS processes apply to every product the Army buys, in all acquisition categories, which are classified by the total procurement cost of the system or product. So everything from a state-of-the-art battle system with expensive hardware and millions of lines of code (ACAT I) to a simple item such as a jungle boot (ACAT III) requires the same amount of paperwork, oversight and layers of bureaucracy to approve the acquisition, defying simple logic. There are approximately 79 ACAT I programs. These are major defense acquisition programs for items costing at least $2.79 billion per year to acquire. More than a hundred ACAT II programs exist, ranging in cost from $835 million to $2.74 billion per year. More than a 1,000 ACAT III programs exist that cost less than $835 million a year to purchase.
STEPS TO A NEW BOOT
Army leadership assigned the development of the new jungle boot to the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCOE) at Fort Benning, Georgia, during the fourth quarter of 2013. The first step for an assigned document writer at the MCOE is to generate a cost-benefit analysis (C-BA). The document writer completed this in the second quarter of 2014. The purpose of the C-BA is to identify the total quantity and cost of the jungle boot. The C-BA may take up to three months to complete.
Following the C-BA approval, the next step is to create a capabilities development document (CDD) for approval by Army leadership. The CDD defines who, what, where, when, why and how the jungle boot is needed, which would likely be obvious if logic were a part of the process. The document writer at the MCOE is usually the subject matter expert (SME) on the ACAT III need (in our case, the jungle boot). In research for my doctoral study, I found that an SME might understand operational use but generally is not a good writer. Writing quality is important, because on many occasions, CDD approval is delayed because the writing does not capture the explanation necessary for Army approval. Thus, the document writer should create an integrated process team (IPT) to help in developing the CDD from the beginning. How many people does it take to write a CDD on a jungle boot? The average number of IPT members ranges from five to 15.The more people on the team, the more opinions, which means the document may take more than a year to complete.
A CDD is typically about 45 pages. It identifies the complete specifications needed for the boot, including the color, height, material, water resistance, traction, speed of drying, protection from the environment for the Soldier, and any other requirements you would want from a boot. A CDD also addresses all the doctrine, organizational, training, material, leadership, personnel, facilities and policy (DOTMLPF-P) changes required for a new jungle boot. Why would there be any changes to DOTMLPF-P areas for a jungle boot?
Contrast the CDD to an operational needs statement (ONS), used by troops in the field to request an existing commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) product. It’s five pages long. An ONS also defines the who, what, when, where, why and how of a need. But it does not address DOTMLPF-P concerns or the complete life cycle of the boot, including disposal once the boot does not meet the established standards. (And that’s not when the boot owner disposes of it; that’s when the Army decides to go through this exercise again and develop a new boot.) Separately, the Army will develop an online maintenance handbook based on the CDD to inform the Soldier of the care and cleaning of the jungle boot. But the Army does not maintain a boot. The Army supply personnel do what everyone else does—throw them away and ask for a new pair.
In case you’ve lost track, we are now at more than 360 days since the initial request for a boot.
Once the CDD is in draft form, the document writer posts it in an online portal to allow units around the globe to comment on it, hence the name of this next stage: worldwide staffing. The Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC) gatekeeper, the person responsible for moving the document through the JCIDS process, provides the document writer the initial list of units. The document writer will add to that list based on his or her experience . Once the document is posted, each unit usually has 30 days to comment. However, 30 days is an arbitrary number and could increase based on requests from the specific units. The document writer must adjudicate all the comments before the approval process can begin. The adjudication process could take a month, depending on the number and complexity of the comments. We are now at approximately 390 days.
THE SAWTOOTH EFFECT
Mowgli avoided being eaten by Shere Khan, a tiger. Unfortunately, the JCIDS process has been overcome by a sawtooth approval process. Once the CDD is signed by the MCOE commander (a two-star general), the CDD is sent to the ARCIC gatekeeper (a colonel) for validation and processing through multiple layers of approval. (See Figure 1.) The Army Requirements Oversight Council (AROC) approves the CDD only after the Army Working Group (AWG), Army Review Board (ARB) and Army Control Board (ACB) approve. If multiple branches of the military (Air Force, Navy, Marines) will use the CDD, an additional Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC), with similar prior approvals, is required. Army personnel call bouncing between these different levels of approval “the saw-tooth effect,” because the graphic representation of the document moving between the different levels looks like a sawtooth blade.
All of these levels of approval take approximately 90 to 140 days. (See Table 1.0.) If any group at any level has questions, waiting for answers can delay or stop the CDD approval. If an answer to a question is critical in nature, the ARCIC gatekeeper may send the CDD back to the beginning of the approval process. Once approved at the AROC and JROC levels, the ARCIC gatekeeper sends the CDD to the chief of staff of the Army for final approval.
HURRY UP AND WAIT
Once the approval of the boot is completed, the funding and contracting efforts begin. The average time to develop a contract for the boot through competition is 240 days. The development of a Federal Acquisition Requirements-compliant contract includes requests for information, the approval to distribute the contract, the distribution of the contract to all vendors for competition, the receipt of the proposal from all the vendors, assessment of all the proposals, and then the contract award.
The assessment is an objective review of the proposals to determine which vendor is awarded the contract, while attempting to avoid a protest by one of the other vendors. Any vendor can protest for any reason, and a protest can delay award from 100 days to a year or more. The vendor then has 180 days or more to manufacture and deliver the boot based upon the awarded contract that has specifications written two or more years earlier.
SLOW PROCESS LEADS TO OUTDATED TECH
According to Moore’s Law, which holds that the pace of technological innovation accelerates exponentially, technology changes every 420 to 540 days. The vendor is responsible for delivering the boot based on the contract award, regardless of the status of current technology. Based on the contract, the vendor may use material that at best is not current and in some cases is obsolete. The vendor must request permission to use material not identified in the contract or request compensation for using non-current material. To substitute the material or find the non-current material, the vendor’s cost may escalate along with the increased delivery time.
Once the jungle boot arrives at an Army distribution warehouse, the warehouse ships the boot based on a Soldier’s request received through the normal supply requisition system. Depending on the unit’s mission priority, the boots may arrive anywhere from two to 30 days later. Now, more than two and a half years after the original request, the Soldier has jungle boots: a bare necessity to complete the mission.
We all might agree that this is a ridiculous tale and an unreasonable timeline to supply jungle boots. Congress agreed, and because of the unusual amount of time to obtain an ACAT III need, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 mandated that the secretary of defense develop a strategy to streamline the JCIDS approval process. The purpose of my doctoral study was to explore strategies that senior U.S. Army commanders might use to reduce the approval time of the JCIDS process for an ACAT III need document. Based on analysis of my research, I developed four recommendations:
1. Identify an objective goal for streamlining the JCIDS process. Without a goal, how do you know when the JCIDS process is streamlined? The goal should include the desired reduction in time for each level.
2. Develop a strategy to determine what person or office should approve an ACAT III need. The strategy should research the ability of the chief of staff of the Army to delegate to a person or office the responsibility to approve an ACAT III need. The strategy should include the reduction of the number of levels of approval. Army leadership should avoid the sawtooth effect for an ACAT III need, and the strategy should include a process to avoid multiple approvals within a level. Why are AWG, AR2B and ACB approvals needed before AROC approval?
3. Use worldwide staffing better. The units identified in worldwide staffing should be limited to IPT members and specific units.
4. Develop a strategy to enhance training for document writers. With enhanced document writing skills, imagine how much faster the ACAT III document would be to write, approve, fund, contract and deliver.
Because of the above-described multiple layers of approval and numerous reviews, it currently takes approximately 506 days to write and approve an ACAT III need document. Additionally, it takes another 420 days to fund, contract, manufacture and deliver. Thus, the total time to deliver a jungle boot to a Soldier is 926 days. Given the rapid pace of technological change, the Soldier seldom receives a product that uses current technology. This length of time for approval is an issue with all ACAT III need developments. Imagine a Soldier needing something more important than a simple bare necessity of life.
For more information, contact Don Schlomer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DONALD SCHLOMER, Lt. Col., USA (Ret.), is an acquisition specialist at U.S. Special Operations Command. He is a doctoral candidate at Walden University. He holds an MBA in finance from Clemson University and a B.B.A. in information systems from the University of Georgia, and is a graduate of the Quartermaster Officer Advanced Course. He has 15 years of JCIDS acquisition experience and was an instructor of the JCIDS process for the Army Command and General Staff College. He is Level II certified in program management.
This article was originally published in the April – June issue Army AL&T magazine.
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