All programs are ACAT I, with all the bureaucracy and paperwork that implies, even when they’re ACAT II or III—except when they’re ‘tailored to the characteristics of the product being acquired.’ But the grounds and means for tailoring are less than obvious, so even the simplest acquisition gets treated like the next-generation fighter jet. It’s time to ‘reform’ the instructions by refining the way the Army thinks about smaller acquisition programs. Here’s how JPEO-CBD is doing it.
by Mr. Douglas W. Bryce
The entire acquisition process is a team sport. The Army and the wider DOD are coming to grips with the fact that the global security and operating environment, combined with technology upgrades, is changing so rapidly that certain materiel development processes and procedures that we have relied on for decades are becoming obsolete. This is true with elements of the Defense Acquisition System, where systems sometimes take so long to develop that they are no longer cutting-edge by the time they are fielded. If the acquisition system does not catch up with the rapidly changing operating environment, we run the risk of letting our warfighters down.
The Defense Acquisition System has been under scrutiny at the highest levels of government, resulting in initiatives such as Better Buying Power (BBP). DOD implemented initiatives like BBP to strengthen defense acquisition by streamlining processes, improving productivity and controlling cost, resulting in more affordable capability for warfighters. While BBP has resulted in significant progress, much remains to be done—specifically, streamlining acquisition at all levels in the “Big A” and “little a” processes, particularly tailoring acquisition to more rapidly advance individual programs. To that end, we need to focus on training for all acquisition practitioners (in requirements, testing, logistics, program management, contracting, etc.). We also need to focus on the “team sport” aspects, with all stakeholders in the acquisition process coming together for a common purpose: getting our warfighters what they need in a more streamlined fashion.
Our primary basis of training for the acquisition community is the Acquisition Category (ACAT) I program—those totaling $480 million or more in research, development and test funding or $2.78 billion in procurement funding—which have enormous reporting and oversight requirements. But the reality is that most programs are ACAT II or III and do not require the same level of oversight and bureaucracy. These programs are great candidates for targeted streamlining, which would accelerate schedules and reduce costs while maintaining high standards for capability delivery. This, too, should be taught as a skill set.
There is little consensus on streamlining in the defense acquisition community; everyone has a different definition and purpose. Nonetheless, the smaller programs are hit with time- and resource-consuming documentation and bureaucracy that often serve no purpose beyond “doing it just to do it.” It is the only way we know, or it’s the way we have been taught. Program offices employing six to 15 people should not be burdened with efforts that add little to no value. DOD should not expect the same oversight of smaller programs as is required for larger ones. We just don’t have the money to do that; we can, however, streamline acquisition by making changes to policy, training and culture.
CHANGES TO THE DOD INSTRUCTION 5000 SERIES
The truth is that we, the defense acquisition community, have many complex issues in defense acquisition, and there is no silver bullet to streamline all of them. Acquisition regulations, directives, guidance, policies, education and training are based predominantly on the management of ACAT I major defense acquisition programs (MDAPs). While DOD Instruction 5000.02 states that “[t]he structure of a DOD acquisition program and the procedures used should be tailored as much as possible to the characteristics of the product being acquired,” it does not describe what should be tailored, how it should be tailored, or how the acquisition community would have the wherewithal to understand and perform that tailoring. The instruction then states that the milestone decision authority (MDA) will determine how the program should be tailored, but it does not recommend when that should be done. Frankly, the common guidance should be to tailor at the materiel development decision or the earliest point in the acquisition process, and that it is the MDA’s decision after consultation with the acquisition enterprise. (See Figure 1.)
By thinking differently about these smaller ACAT II and ACAT III programs, which have considerably less complexity and fewer budgetary implications, we can generate a different view of processes used to develop and acquire these capabilities. Accordingly, the following activities will help us arrive at the proper mindset, as well as inform modification of the DOD Instruction 5000 series, as appropriate:
- Add more analytical rigor much earlier in the acquisition process. Assign empowered program managers to evaluate acquisition, contracting and logistics strategies as early as two or three years prior to Milestone A or entry into a program of record.
- Focus on the requirements generation process; take a critical look at where technology readiness levels are and will be for the program’s needs, and what cost drivers exist.
- Refine requirements and inform the acquisition process by conducting more experimentation and technology demonstrations like advanced technology demonstrations (ATDs) supporting Milestone A. These ATDs will then support analyses of alternatives (AoAs) and studies to provide a clear understanding of need and maximize trade space between program objectives and thresholds within the bounds of cost, schedule and performance, all while keeping competition alive.
- Conduct AoA and studies. As information is gathered from the ATDs, the community needs to take an objective look at that data as well as input from the prospective users in the field. Additionally, it is beneficial to attend training events and talk with the warfighters. An AoA can be more than just a document with fancy graphs and statistics. Use all of this available information to understand what trade space is acceptable to better inform the objective and threshold requirements in the draft or final capability development document.
- Determine a different path for testing ACAT II and ACAT III programs, one that will provide an effective and suitable level of acceptance but with some risks and assumptions laid out. We spend a lot of time testing with a zero-risk mentality, and that means a lot of time and money. Also, include a feedback mechanism for the user community with respect to test planning. By planning for regular test feedback with the user, trade-offs are made throughout the development of a program rather than at milestones. The result is a more dynamic development cycle that reduces schedule and cost impacts when data indicate performance issues.
FOCUSING MANAGEMENT TRAINING ON ACAT II, III
While the curriculum required to meet Level III certification teaches our workforce how to develop program acquisition strategies, understand contract types, conduct market analysis, execute testing and evaluation, and learn and apply the guidelines outlined in the DOD Instruction 5000 series, it focuses almost exclusively on managing ACAT I MDAPs.
To increase the information and education available to professionals dealing with ACAT II and III programs, we are working with the Defense Acquisition University to develop a workshop on streamlining acquisition for program managers of ACAT III-level programs. The target audience is acquisition personnel from across the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense (JPEO-CBD) currently certified at Level II or III for program management. As we progress in this course, it should be required for the requirements generation personnel and testing communities so that we can grow together in this team sport.
CHANGING ASPECTS OF THE ACQUISITION CULTURE
Culture change in defense acquisition is certainly not a new concept, but it would be helpful and informative to add some detail to the discussion. We can improve a number of cultural characteristics that have come to define our enterprise.
ACAT I and ACAT II and III programs can take different risks and should not be held to the same standards. With an eye to reduced budgets and smaller teams, ACAT II and III program managers should consider the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) acquisition methodology, whereby more performance risks are taken in an effort to deliver new and improved capabilities sooner.
Answer key questions such as, “Are we meeting our most important requirements?” and “Does this system improve the warfighter’s ability to complete mission tasks and provide or contribute to overall unit and mission success?” If the answer to these questions is yes, consider tailoring the acquisition to get that capability to the field soonest. Get to the Chevy Cruze first, and then use research and development to get to the Cadillac model, if needed. Take risks and plan for improvements after initial fielding. SOCOM uses the “team sport” concept of users, requirements generators, testers and acquisition program offices rallying to plan, write, advise, test and acquire capabilities and determine support logistics needs; all of this is done with the warfighter in the room.
Involve the test community as early as possible in requirements generation. Debate cost and schedule issues in terms of requirements and testing, and make the difficult choices earlier. Write test plans and requirements to accelerate test schedules while meeting the user needs.
Amending policy, improving training and making cultural changes to the way we do business will lead to shorter schedules, lower acquisition costs and, most importantly, needed capability in the hands of the warfighter. The acquisition community is strong and consists of hardworking, smart professionals who work as best they know how to defend our great nation.
We need to start simplifying the way we conduct business in order to provide the joint force the equipment it needs to fight and win on changing battlefields. Working as a team from requirements to logistics sustainability, Big A and little a will be able to work through each program as a product unto itself without the need to be so standardized that we forget our purpose and mission and become e-process junkies instead of capability providers.
For more information, contact Gary Wright at 410-436-6489 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
MR. DOUGLAS W. BRYCE, the joint program executive officer for chemical and biological defense, was selected for the Senior Executive Service in February 2010. After 20 years as a Marine, he retired as a chief warrant officer 3 in 1992. He is Level III certified in program management and a member of the Army Acquisition Corps.
The JPEO-CBD’s Strategic Operations Directorate, which supports planning and communication activities, contributed to this article.
This article was originally published in the October – December 2016 issue of Army AL&T magazine.
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