IPT collaboratively identifies budget proposal needs to expedite the approval process.
by Brooke A. Davis
Either in developing it or consuming it, an appetite for cutting edge technology is one of the fundamental components of American society. Technology is part of our national nature and a keystone to our defense. This occupation with technology throughout the whole of the American experience is reflected by our representatives in government. Congress plays a key role in both encouraging innovation and protecting the American people from technological threats and risk through executing its Constitutional powers and responsibilities. One way of encouraging innovation is through funding of areas that Congress deems important for growth and defense, often with an eye of dual-use outcomes, like the research efforts that lead to global positioning systems (GPS). Through Congressional hearings, industry engagements and efforts of technology oriented lobbyists, Congress is one of the most informed bodies on the state of technology in the nation. Each budget cycle Congress will add funds where they think additional effort is warranted, according to a 2019 article from the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, entitled “Building a 21st Century Congress: Improving Congress’s Science and Technology Expertise.”
“Each year, Congress increases the Army’s science and technology budget request by approximately $1.5 billion in funding, known as Congressional adds,” explained Aaron Cutler, strategic communications specialist within the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research and Technology (ODASA(R&T)). As part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology (OASA(ALT)), the ODASA(R&T) is responsible for oversight of science and technology programs, including budget increases through Congressional adds.
The Congressional adds are a very important aspect of Army funding, but come to the Army as additions to the normal Army budgeting processes. A more effective way to capture the associated data and manage the funds for efficient execution has always been desired by both parties.
Last year, a collaborative team of stakeholders within the Army’s science and technology community proactively led efforts to improve the 2021 fiscal year Congressional add process, resulting in increased funding efficiency for the entire Army research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) community, and gained Congressional recognition.
Tina LeGrand, who worked as the deputy director for Army science and technology enterprise resource management within ASA(ALT), explained the Army receives Congressional adds funding for more than 150 distinct science and technology efforts annually. LeGrand outlined the complex path it takes to execute a Congressional add. “In order to receive Congressional add funding, [science and technology] executing organizations must develop and submit a proposal to the defense appropriations committee that details the technical and financial plan for each funding effort,” she said. “Before funding for these efforts can be released for execution, the Army [science and technology] community must route proposals through their organization’s chain of command… and receive approval from the appropriate Congressional committees through the Army Budget Office [ABO]. In fiscal year 2020, we experienced challenges submitting proposals to Congress in a timely manner.” LeGrand observed that this was partly due to shifting responsibilities between the various commands and organizations that compose and set priorities for the Army science and technology enterprise.
In response to these challenges, LeGrand formed an integrated product team (IPT) with key stakeholders from the Army science and technology enterprise community and representatives from supporting Army Budget and Congressional liaison offices. The IPT collaboratively identified the need to improve standardization of the proposal template, develop a process flowchart, and ensure alignment with all guidance to ensure mission success.
TIMING IS CRITICAL
Timing of the workflow process was an important aspect for the Army science and technology enterprise, as many different echelons needed to route requirements through various command levels for approval. “The flow and timeline is so very short after an enactment of an appropriation,” observed Kim McGraw, science and technology functional budget lead at Army Futures Command’s Science and Technology Directorate, Acquisitions and Systems. “It was very important,” offered McGraw, “for everyone on the IPT to talk about their time sensitivity and workflow issues.”
LeGrand outlined the process the IPT used to get to a more efficient process. “After cataloging lessons learned from the fiscal year 2020 cycle, we started our efforts to refine the proposal template. In addition to clarifying data fields to make proposal formulation easier for the [science and technology] community, we reviewed stakeholder guidance to ensure the template addressed all requirements, both explicit and implied,” stated LeGrand.
Understanding that science and technology is a subset of the overarching RDT&E appropriation, the team recognized the requirement to develop a template that would be applicable to the entire community. While the team finalized revisions to the template, they worked a parallel effort with the Army’s Congressional budget liaisons to clarify a new requirement proposed by the House Appropriations Committee. Specifically, the committee introduced language in House Report 116-453 that, if affirmed during the conference process, would require “the Secretary of Defense to limit Department overhead costs on congressional program increases to not more than 10 percent of the funding level provided.”
This new requirement could potentially have an impact on the science and technology proposal process, as Army laboratories and research centers often retain more than 10 percent of Congressional add funding to manage contracts, conduct in-house research and engineering, and purchase equipment necessary to achieve program goals in line with Congressional intent. Because the approval process for science and technology plans for Congressional adds is complex, clarification was critical as the team prepared to meet the submission deadlines set forth by ABO, explained Jeffrey D. Singleton, acting deputy assistant secretary for Research and Technology.
“Although we weren’t certain we would need to employ our strategy to address the committee’s proposed requirement, we recognized the benefit of including it in the template,” Singleton said. “With over 180 proposals anticipated for [fiscal year] 2021, we knew it would be easier to remove the language and relax the requirement vice trying to add the language and sharpen the restrictions midway through the process.”
The team’s proposal to address the new requirement was highlighted in a separate section of the template that showed funding dedicated to overhead represented as a dollar amount and percentage of total Congressional add funding for that effort, Singleton added.
Ultimately, the recommended template was accepted for use across the whole RDT&E community, and the limitation proposed in House Report 116-453 did make it through conference as a requirement for the execution of Congressional add funding. As a result of the proactive coordination and planning efforts the Army science and technology enterprise was prepared to report on the new requirement—or so they thought.
“While the IPT working group did seek and receive clarification on the intent of the 10 percent overhead limitation to ensure it was being captured in an accurate and standardized manner, one day before the suspense, the community received further guidance on what should be counted in the calculation of the total overhead from the committee,” LeGrand said.
The RDT&E community needed to revise and resubmit nearly all the proposals as a result of the clarification. “The request from ABO was to revise 180 [science and technology] proposals in five business days,” LeGrand said, looking back on the effort to get the revisions staffed. “While we did not hit that target, given the number of revisions and the complexity of the [science and technology] proposals, we did submit all revised proposals within 10 business days of the revised guidance. This was a significant accomplishment for the community, facilitated by open lines of communication and established methods of coordination.”
“This innovative approach to work collaboratively across organizations to meet challenges speaks of the caliber of people who work in the Army’s RTD&E community,” said Singleton. “Clearly defining their goals and exceeding them despite changing requirements is an encouraging trend for future fiscal years.”
The team’s efforts were recognized in the House Appropriations Committee Defense Appropriations Bill, 2022. The bill called out the effort in legislative language, stating that “the Committee was encouraged that the Army developed a system for tracking overhead costs on congressional program increases, and believes that all of the Services and Defense-Wide agencies should similarly track these costs to ensure that the overwhelming amount of each congressional program increase is used to further the intended program and not simply supplement or supplant established overhead budget.”
LeGrand was quick to point out the success of the working group would not have been possible without input from all stakeholders who provided assistance, guidance and insight along the way. “Every person who provided input was critical to our success,” LeGrand observed. “This is a great example of how collaboration can lead to positive outcomes and improved efficiency.” Despite the end of the formal fiscal year 2021 Congressional add season, the team continued to stay in contact in order to leverage their results for a successful fiscal year 2022.
“The team discussed the need for two IPTs for [fiscal year] 2022—one focused on RDT&E as a whole, the other focused on the subset of [science and technology]. In preparation for [fiscal year] 2022, the teams have developed step-by-step instructions to accompany the proposal template, which we modified slightly based on [fiscal year] 2021 lessons learned,” LeGrand said. “The revised template and instructions have already been accepted by ABO and disseminated to the RDT&E community so they can begin drafting their proposals based on committee marks to date.”
The team also disseminated a checklist specific to science and technology to address the community’s unique requirements. The checklist was designed to assist all in the community, acting as a reference for individuals in the laboratories and center crafting proposals as well as AFC headquarters and Army staff reviewers.
Additionally, ABO is developing a SharePoint site to improve tracking processes through a repository for proposals, approvals and requests for information, according to Sgt. 1st Class Sahib Singh, AFC resource management non-commissioned officer, currently detailed to the ABO.
“The biggest takeaway from the IPT is that funding gets approved earlier than in previous years,” Singh said. “We started working together earlier, clarified key players and streamlined communications.”
“There are three different echelons in this process and we incorporated feedback from those levels to help make the request process much smoother and better,” McCraw said. “We really looked at questions like ‘Are we hitting the Congressional intent?’ The IPT process was extremely helpful in answering that.” At the conclusion of the fiscal year 2022 cycle, the team hopes to report that all RDT&E Congressional add proposals have been submitted to ABO within 60 days of budget enactment. The newly formed science and technology IPT includes participation from every science and technology executing organization.
With Congressional verbiage commending the Army’s overhead tracking costs on Congressional adds, the team is also already looking to the future. In fiscal year 2023 the team hopes to share their Congressionally recognized tracking processes, lessons learned and best practices with the whole Department of Defense RDT&E community.
For more information go to the ASA(ALT) website https://www.army.mil/asaalt.
BROOKE A. DAVIS is a public affairs/media operations defense contractor for the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology. She holds a Master in Public Administration from the University of Oklahoma. She has 19 years’ experience working as a public affairs specialist and is a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve.