An interview with the Army acquisition executive.
More than two years ago, Dr. Bruce D. Jette was confirmed by the U.S. Senate and sworn into office as the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology (ASA(ALT)). He brought with him extensive experience in the Army acquisition process and lessons learned from owning an entrepreneurial business, along with a clear perspective on leadership and the benefits of a streamlined and agile organization.
His leadership philosophy is focused on cultural change, accelerated fielding, accelerated technology and accountability. Army AL&T spoke recently with Jette to ask his thoughts on modernization of the acquisition process and other changes impacting the acquisition workforce.
Army AL&T: The theme of this issue of Army AL&T is “Understanding Acquisition.” Briefly, what are some key points about acquisition that you want people to know?
Jette: I think it’s useful for people to understand how the basic acquisition process works. The process starts with a requirement. Someone has to say, “I have a need,” and be able to describe that need. If a materiel solution is required, a program is generated to fulfill that need.
A review is required, however, to confirm that a materiel solution is actually required. The Army follows the procedures laid out in the DOTMLPF (doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel and facilities) system to determine whether the need can be fulfilled with an organizational change. For example, the DOTMLPF review may reveal that we don’t need a new rifle, we need to add another rifleman to the squad—that would be an organizational solution versus a materiel one.
If the analysis concludes the need for a materiel solution, the Army acquisition team works through integrating and developing new technologies, putting them together into a system, and trying to fulfill the requirement as it is written.
It’s important to note “the requirement as it is written,” because testing is at the far end of the acquisition process—and what the Army tests against is exactly what the requirement describes. (See related article, “Enemies List”). For example, if we’re asked to build a vehicle with square wheels, we test against vehicles with square wheels, not vehicles with round wheels. While the requirements as written may seem questionable at times, it is our job as acquisition professionals to meet those requirements, not second-guess them.
Once the item is produced by the acquisition community, the Army fields it in accordance with what Army G-3/5/7 (operations, plans and training) has determined the fielding sequence will be, and what Army senior leaders have determined the fielding strategy will be.
When the item is fielded, the Army has to sustain it. Sustainment covers the parts, spares and stockages—as determined by the logistics side of the house, which is the U.S. Army Materiel Command (AMC) in most cases, but might also be the Defense Logistics Agency.
At the end of the life cycle, when the product is being replaced, the Army has to divest it, and that may require demilitarization. As an example, the Army doesn’t just put gun tubes out onto the open market; we have to make sure they are not capable of ever being used again.
Army AL&T: It sounds like a complex process that involves a lot of different people.
Jette: It’s a lot more complex than people think, especially that front-end piece, the operational requirement. The requirement is what we want to accomplish; it is what drives the acquisition system to give the Army the materiel it needs.
Prior to the establishment of the U.S. Army Futures Command (AFC), under the old system, there was a point-to-point interface. Someone from the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) and the various Army capability development integration directorates wrote the requirement. The acquisition community would then go about acquiring the technology or equipment. These were two independent activities.
I use what I call the “interlaced fingers” analogy to illustrate how we work together now. We have fingers from both hands that are interlaced; the left hand—AFC—has responsibility for the requirements, and the right hand—ASA(ALT)—has responsibility for producing the product. With both hands interlocked, the teams can interact more effectively. This interlocking of requirements and production allows Soldiers to provide critical feedback early into the development of the materiel.
Army AL&T: That leads me to the next question, and that is, how has the acquisition process changed since the creation of Army Futures Command?
Jette: Well, the technical acquisition process is unchanged by the existence of AFC. Deeply buried in law, we’re required in certain cases to do certain things. The laws surrounding the acquisition process, DOD 5000 and the DOD 5000 rewrite, and some of the policies that govern it, all of those things remain unchanged.
The creation of AFC, fundamentally though, has changed the front end of the process, which is the requirements—describing the need. The secretary of the Army issued guidance to senior leaders to find a more effective way to connect the requirements to the development of the acquisition strategy. Before, requirements were done by an austere group. Now, we’ve got a general officer, Gen. John M. Murray, leading the effort. That’s a pretty big difference in commitment to requirements on the part of the Army.
Army AL&T: So are we getting better products for the Soldiers now?
Jette: There are products that we’re working on that clearly benefit from this new approach. Since AFC was established more than a year ago, we can see a much more capable performance on our part. We’ve got a much more intimate relationship between the requirements and acquisition communities—the interlocked hands I referred to earlier.
Army AL&T: So does this give Soldiers a better opportunity to have input into the development of equipment that they’ll eventually get?
Jette: It depends on the program. Some programs are well-suited to having a lot more Soldier touch points. The Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) is a great example. Soldiers are involved with IVAS on a weekly basis. While the acquisition program manager is working on development of the materiel solution, the AFC cross-functional team lead is working on providing Soldiers who can answer the next set of questions. So the two organizations work tremendously well toward generating a much better product much faster, because of that close, cooperative and intimate relationship.
Army AL&T: Are there any other examples, besides IVAS, of how that’s coming?
Jette: Having Soldiers involved in systems early has been easiest with those systems that are very familiar to the Soldier. The next-generation squad weapon rifle and automatic rifle are two examples.
The development of those weapons involved a lot of Soldier touch points at the front end, when we looked at the prototypes. That brought us to a contract that gives us four systems to test. Those systems were based on requirements that came from a very mature assessment of some of the previous prototypes, which then led to the new prototypes, all with a cleaner set of requirements. So we expect that the Soldiers, once we “down-select” to the weapon desired, will be very happy with that weapon produced.
Army AL&T: Shifting gears just a bit, what role does talent management have in the acquisition process?
Jette: Talent management is one of the most critical things we need to do for our military and civilian workforce, including our noncommissioned officers. Certainly, there’s training. We have to make sure everyone is properly trained. There are legal requirements with respect to acquisition workforce training before they’re allowed to expend government funds. In the area of our government contracting personnel, for example, they must be trained and certified to receive a warrant allowing them to spend government money. There is a similar requirement for program managers.
The acquisition workforce brings a very interesting set of capabilities to the table, one being that all uniformed acquisition personnel must be proven company commanders. This doesn’t mean they have the extensive experiences of an S-3 (operations officer) or as a battalion commander in their particular branch, but they walk out of their branch and their previous duty assignments with some relationship to, and understanding of, field operations. And in most cases, they have a combat badge.
Then the question becomes, “How do I develop the individuals who are within the acquisition community?” We have cyber, quantum computing, hypersonics, artificial intelligence and other highly technical areas. We have complex sensor systems and complex communication systems. If you’re going to truly lead in that area, then it can’t be perceived purely as a process. There is no difference between someone who knows how to do an operations order but no idea how to fight, and someone who knows how to design an acquisition strategy but no idea how to make it work.
In some cases, experience is all you need; in other cases, education is also required. If I’m going to have someone lead our effort in hypersonics, an advanced degree in an appropriate science or engineering field will provide insights into how to lead that program forward.
Army AL&T: When you began your leadership at ASA(ALT), you talked about focusing on product more than process. Congress has enacted new authorities directed at acquisition improvement. How have you been implementing this transition?
Jette: All of the flexibilities that Congress has given us—middle-tier acquisition, other-transaction authority and others—are great tools in our kit, but we must approach reform in a process-based way. Acquisition personnel need to understand all the pieces that go into the toolkit, so that they can pull out the right tool to solve the right problem. Then, they must think through the difficulties and opportunities within any given program and put together a package that generates a successful outcome.
I have seen in the past where process was more important, and zero defects was the most important thing in that process. The problem with that is, the process does not guarantee an outcome or product. You can dot every “i”, cross every “t”, complete every form, submit every document, and have nothing that works to show for it. That’s not the outcome. Getting something out because you’ve done it and it works is the outcome.
Army AL&T: As the Army’s acquisition executive, how would you describe the acquisition community in contrast with military commands with which it works to provide materiel to Soldiers?
Jette: The acquisition community has a large commonality with the military commands with which we work—AFC, AMC, TRADOC and others. We all want to ensure the greatest defense for this country. We are all willing to serve and to do whatever it takes to get the job done, which for us is fielding needed capabilities to Soldiers as expeditiously as possible.
This article is published in the Winter 2020 issue of Army AL&T magazine.
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