Strong partnerships with industry are more important than ever as R&D funding declines and need for innovation grows
From the Honorable Katrina McFarland
In recent years, Army AL&T magazine has covered various facets of the Better Buying Power program that provide a framework to help us improve how we conduct business, including leveraging small business innovations, revamping acquisition and strengthening tradecraft of the acquisition workforce. This issue highlights another aspect of the program that remains integral to our mission: effective partnerships with industry. While the dynamics of our relationship with industry may evolve with the changing acquisition landscape, the fundamental need for a collaborative exchange of ideas with industry remains constant.
One of the hallmarks of the Army acquisition enterprise is our unwavering commitment to innovation. We welcome innovation from all sources, not just our own. For example, while we constantly strive to develop breakthrough technologies in our labs and research, development and engineering centers, we also encourage the development of innovative solutions from industry partners, including small businesses. This respect for innovation regardless of origin is what keeps the Army in the top ranks of small business obligations among the services. In Army acquisition, we also work closely with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) and welcome its expansion to form ARL-West. This partnership between ARL and the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California will leverage the subject matter expertise and innovation in the region’s technical centers.
COMMUNICATING IS KEY
Our collaboration with industry ensures that we safeguard our technological superiority against our adversaries. However, with the considerable mutual advantage of industry collaboration comes increasing responsibility to maintain efficiency and professionalism throughout the acquisition life cycle. One way we accomplish this is by maintaining consistent and thorough dialogue with industry partners.
Previous issues of AL&T magazine also have explored the role of requirements in the acquisition process, noting that requirements lay the groundwork for acquisition and play a major part in determining the success or failure of a program. If sound, achievable requirements are the foundation of the acquisition life cycle, then communication takes it one step further. Dialogue among industry and program managers from the government and military prevents the inefficient use of time and funding in pursuit of “unobtanium” and addresses affordability and feasibility issues in requirements while they are still fixable.
This communication with industry is necessary to leverage the public funds provided to industry for independent research and development (IR&D). Industry’s IR&D yields critical innovation for both DOD and the private corporations, which is why the government allows contractors access to these public funds. There is also contractor research and development (CR&D) funding that does not come from public funds.
As the Army’s research, development and acquisition funding has declined, the defense industry has also reduced its CR&D. This makes IR&D more valuable. The Army has succeeded in preserving its science and technology investment in the past year with funding for basic research and technology development that will help offset some of the CR&D reduction. However, in this fiscally constrained environment, it is even more important to collaborate with industry on IR&D to ensure that we leverage these capabilities to support our warfighters.
We recognize that open communication is the backbone of military-industry collaboration at all levels. From a leadership perspective, we in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology (ASA(ALT)) welcome the opportunity to engage with countless industry representatives at annual forums such as those of the Association of the United States Army, the National Defense Industrial Association and the Army Aviation Association of America.
We facilitate industry CEO engagements across the Army staff. Through the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (DASA) for Defense Exports and Cooperation, we advocate for increased international sales that allow American companies to maintain a skilled workforce and sharpen capabilities even in times of decreased U.S. military spending. In FY15, these international sales had a case value over $20.4 billion.
Through the Office of the DASA for Procurement, we have extended the Superior Supplier Incentive Program (SSIP) to the Army. SSIP, originally a Navy program, is a tool for helping industry see which business units are performing at their highest potential, as well as to guide companies toward areas of improvement.
Collaboration with the private sector also extends to program executive offices (PEOs) through regular industry day events. These industry days serve a dual purpose: They allow program managers to assess the technologies available in the marketplace while providing a forum for dialogue and collaboration between industry and government to efficiently design and field new capabilities.
Through the Office of the Army Director for Acquisition Career Management, we encourage participation in the Training with Industry (TWI) program. TWI allows Army Acquisition Workforce members to participate in a hands-on developmental assignment in a private corporation, affording a well-rounded perspective that enhances continued collaboration upon return to the acquisition enterprise. With each of these avenues for industry partnership, we strengthen our potential for innovation, from the leadership level down to individual members of the workforce.
This partnership is not without its challenges and opportunities, as this issue of Army AL&T will explore. With so much at stake as we work to develop and field the best capabilities to Soldiers, we need to constantly ask ourselves how we can improve our partnerships with industry and the dialogue necessary to sustain them. Are we getting the most out of our TWI program? Are we effectively navigating the often tangled web of intellectual property rights as we pursue open systems architecture? Are we using PEO industry days, Army leadership CEO meetings and trade shows to the highest extent as forums for communication and idea sharing?
We ask ourselves these questions and devote our attention to this matter because we understand that our relationship with industry strengthens our relationship with the warfighter. Collaborating with industry is a fundamental necessity in our mission to equip Soldiers with capabilities at the forefront of innovation.
This article was originally published in the July – September 2016 issue of Army AL&T magazine.
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