Security cooperation for the 21st century

By August 21, 2017August 30th, 2018Acquisition, Army ALT Magazine
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Strengthening allied nations’ defense abilities through training, equipment sales and other forms of cooperation is a vital part of U.S. national security. The FY17 NDAA was the first NDAA to recognize this, reorganizing and reforming the security cooperation enterprise.

 by Mr. Jim Stocks and Mr. Adam Genest

Security cooperation—the United States government’s effort to build partner capacity through the provision of defense articles, military training and other defense services—has been a critical component of U.S. national security policy for decades. In recent years, people within and outside DOD have studied how to better organize and execute the government’s security cooperation mission in the 21st century. As a result of these efforts, Congress has recognized the strategic importance of security cooperation and has introduced a once-in-a-generation reform effort to equip the department with the tools for operating in today’s dynamic and challenging environment.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2017, signed by President Barack Obama on Dec. 23, 2016, contains far-reaching reforms for security cooperation authorities. These reforms represent a significant opportunity to restructure security cooperation throughout DOD and will have wide-ranging impacts across the Army. In aggregate, the statute will reform the security cooperation workforce; enhance the flexibility, transparency and oversight of security cooperation authorities and resources; and improve the alignment of security cooperation activities with defense strategy.

The changes with the biggest impact will likely be those related to the security cooperation workforce. The establishment of a distinct security cooperation workforce called for in the FY17 NDAA is the equivalent of the Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act (DAWIA) for the security cooperation community. The FY17 NDAA directs workforce changes that are very much modeled on the success that DAWIA has had in establishing education and training standards and requirements for the acquisition workforce. When fully implemented, we will have clearly identified the security cooperation workforce, established career development and certification requirements and linked those requirements to staffing for key DOD and Army security cooperation-related positions.

The legacy of this legislation will be the establishment of a well-defined workforce, capable of fostering an entire career within security cooperation. Professionals in the field will have wide-ranging career-enhancing opportunities that will provide the opportunity to grow and lead within the security cooperation enterprise. These changes will establish a pool of talented and experienced employees from which future senior leaders in security cooperation will be selected, mentored and given an opportunity to guide the enterprise.


Thirty-two OH-58D Kiowa Warriors with the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade conduct a farewell flight over Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in April 2016. Croatia received the first of 16 surplus OH-58Ds in August 2016 through the Excess Defense Articles and FMS programs. The FY17 NDAA places some new restrictions on foreign military sales FMS contracting. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michael Cox)

Another important change includes the requirement to assign responsibility for security cooperation policy, oversight and allocation of resources to a single official within the Office of the Secretary of Defense. This will streamline oversight of programs, activities and resource planning and allocation responsibilities that are currently scattered across DOD. The secretary of defense has designated the undersecretary of defense for policy as the responsible official for security cooperation. In addition, the law also consolidates management responsibilities within the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, supporting the development of a single security cooperation budget and facilitating greater integration of planning and implementing the new train-and-equip authority discussed below. This consolidation and streamlining will enable a more coordinated approach to security cooperation that is aligned with national security and foreign policy objectives.

The law also makes dramatic changes in the authorities for DOD to conduct training-and-equipping programs in support of the combatant commanders. The previous hodgepodge of narrow and targeted train-and-equip authorities were consolidated to create a flexible tool for combatant commanders to build partner capacity. These changes broaden the scope of the mission and expand the types of partner forces eligible for participation beyond just traditional defense forces, to include not just military but also police and other non-military security forces. In addition, funding duration was increased to enable development of holistic and structured solutions to partner needs.


Georgian soldiers stand in formation July 29 at Vaziani Military Base, Georgia, during the opening ceremony of Exercise Noble Partner, an exercise of Georgia’s light infantry company contribution to the NATO Response Force. The FY17 NDAA makes major changes to U.S. efforts to build partner capacity by providing training, defense articles and other defense services. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. David Vermilyea, 173rd Airborne Brigade)

The NDAA included a few provisions whose impacts were not quite as positive. Most notable was what—according to congressional staffers and written comments from the committee—was a seemingly unintended negative impact on the Special Defense Acquisition Fund (SDAF). The SDAF is a revolving fund that provides a method for effecting advance procurements to reduce international customer waiting time as well as a source of urgently needed articles. In an effort to bolster the SDAF program, the FY17 NDAA increased the authorization for the program to $2.5 billion. However, the increase came with a caveat that a significant portion of the authorization be spent on procuring and stocking precision guided munitions (PGM). The DOD interpretation of this requirement has led to challenges in using SDAF for non-PGM acquisitions, which has hampered the effectiveness of the overall program.

The NDAA also placed some restrictions on foreign military sales (FMS) contracting that may negatively impact program execution. The law requires the use of firm fixed-price contracts for FMS (with some provisions for exceptions), which limits a contracting officer’s ability to choose the appropriate contract type to deliver best value to the FMS customer. In addition, limitations were placed on the use of undefinitized contract actions (UCAs) for FMS. (UCAs are contract actions for which the contract terms, specifications or price are not agreed upon before performance commences.) Pricing goods and services for FMS is often complex and challenging, largely because of variations in terms of allowable costs such as sales promotions, demonstrations and related travel for sales to foreign governments, and offset costs. The NDAA limitations effectively eliminate the use of UCAs for FMS because of the difficulty in meeting the new timeline restrictions to define and finalize the terms of the contract. These limitations reduce needed flexibility in FMS and have the potential to increase costs for both international partners and the U.S. In addition, this NDAA provision breaks with a fundamental tenet of the FMS program, in that our international partners are no longer afforded the same acquisition process we use for our own procurements.


Personnel from the Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan’s Security Assistance Office inventory cargo with representatives from the Afghan National Army at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. The FY17 NDAA streamlines oversight of programs, activities and resource planning, and allocation responsibilities that are currently scattered across DOD. (U.S. Army photo by Lt. Christopher Hanson, Resolute Support Headquarters)

The FY17NDAA makes major changes to how security cooperation is conducted in DOD. These changes will have lasting impacts on the security cooperation community, and create conditions to ensure improved responsiveness to combatant commander requirements. This comprehensive reform demonstrates a recognition of the importance of security cooperation in advancing national security. In the aggregate, this legislation made positive, far-reaching changes that will improve security cooperation throughout DOD.

For more information, contact Jim Stocks at

MR. JIM STOCKS is a strategic planner for the deputy assistant secretary of the Army for defense exports and cooperation (DASA(DE&C)). He is a distinguished graduate of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces with an M.S. in national resource strategy; he also holds a master of science in business analytics from Boston University and a B.A. in management from Guilford College. He is Level I certified in program management and holds an International Affairs Tier II certification. He retired at the rank of colonel from the U.S. Marine Corps in 2014.

MR. ADAM GENEST is a strategic communications contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton, providing contract support to DASA(DE&C). He holds a master of forensic science from George Washington University and a B.A. in homeland security and emergency preparedness from Virginia Commonwealth University.

This article will be published in the October – December 2017 Army AL&T magazine.

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