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DOD's Section 809 Advisory Panel

Vern Edwards

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DOD has announced the names of the 18 appointees to its Section 809 Advisory Panel on Streamlining and Codifying Acquisition Regulations. You can see their names and qualifications here:

http://www.dau.mil/sec809/default.aspx.

The panel's congressionally mandated mission is as follows:

Quote

 

Section 809 of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act established the Advisory Panel on Streamlining and Codifying Acquisition Regulations (809 Panel) to review the acquisition regulations applicable to the Department of Defense with a view toward streamlining and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the defense acquisition process and maintaining a defense technology advantage. The panel is charged with making recommendations for the amendment or repeal of such regulations that the panel considers necessary, as a result of such review, to: 

·         Establish and administer appropriate buyer and seller relationships in the procurement system 

·         Improve the functioning of the acquisition system

·         Ensure the continuing financial and ethical integrity of defense procurement programs 

·         Protect the best interests of the Department of Defense

·         Eliminate any regulations that are unnecessary for the purposes described

I have to say that I'm disappointed by the appointments. It's not that the appointees are not qualified or that I object to anyone's inclusion. They're distinguished and eminently qualified. The problem is that, unless I'm mistaken, they're old.

Yes, I said old.

Was there not even one GS-15 or SES in their early 30s with recent working-level experience who is sufficiently well qualified to provide advice and make recommendations for the amendment and repeal of regulations? Not one person in their late 20s or early 30s? Not one? The panel is comprised entirely of people whom I'd call, no offense intended, the usual suspects. I know some of them and like the ones I know, but that makes no difference.

Look, I don't expect much. The panel will work hard and produce a glossy report in 2018 (2018???!!!--why so far off?) that will be much discussed, I'm sure, for at least a month, maybe even two. We've had a lot of reform panels over the years and, ultimately, their work hasn't really come to much. (Anyone remember the SARA panel?) Oh, the 809 Panel is very likely to recommend at least some changes that will be made, but they won't change the system's ultimate character and outcomes, because reforms rarely address the system's fundamental problems. It's been more than 20 years since the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994, yet I just saw a 47-page solicitation for 12 sleeper sofas, a buy that’s probably worth less than $18,000, yet incorporates something like 200+ pages of text by reference. Any little money saved by competition will be consumed by the cost of the process.

What we need from the 809 Panel is a final report that shows just how looney the system has become. We also need a final report that makes really radical recommendations. How about taking DOD out of the FAR system and letting it go back to having its own Defense Acquisition Regulation? (The two-council system is a mess.) How about freeing the Defense acquisition regulations from Paperwork Reduction Act reviews? (Congress and the President are imposing most of the paperwork, so what’s the point?) How about raising the simplified acquisition threshold to $1 million and taking simplified acquisition procedures out of the regulation and putting them into a separate guidebook so people doing simplified will be less regulation-obsessed? How about exempting simplified acquisitions from some socio-economic laws and programs? How about raising the dollar threshold for the submission of certified cost or pricing data to an amount at which the likely benefit will exceed the requirement's costs. ($50 million is about right. Maybe even $100 million.) How about applying the cost accounting standards only to contracts under which there is a likelihood of requests for equitable adjustment and significant claims worth more than, say, $5 million? How about recommending that certain contractor selections be based on qualifications, rather than technical proposals and price, and followed by unrestricted, in-depth, one-on-one negotiations (not "discussions") with the selectee?

But I fear that such a distinguished panel will consider such recommendations to be too far out. Only the young would be so radical and indecorous.

The future belongs to the young. It's they who will be tomorrow's acquisition (and national) leaders, and so it’s they who should take the lead in recommending changes. The folks of my generation have had our chances. We need to step aside and lend the young a hand. The old heads need to be there mainly to tell the young about their experiences, how they’ve been there and done that and why it didn't work the last few times, so that the young can go forward without making the same mistakes. (It would be trite at this point to quote Bob Dylan, so I won't do it. But most of you know the song I'm thinking about.)

I wish that Deirdre Lee, the panel chair, would prevail upon DOD to find and appoint at least two young radicals to the panel--persons in their late 20s or early 30s. I wish that the panel would actively seek the ideas and opinions of today's young chiefs of contracting offices and section chiefs. I wish that they'd hand over the task of writing the final report to young thinkers and firebrands. 

I understand how the system works and why it works the way it does. Sadly, I do understand. I’m not naïve. But isn’t it time for subversive leadership from the old? What will they have to lose in 2018? Why not let the young set Congress’s hair on fire?

It’s time, at long last, long past time, for the old timers to bring people to the front who don't care how and why the system works the way it does, who want to take a new path, and who don’t mind kicking dirt on some shoes.

It's long past time.

 




10 Comments


One more problem is the committee.  Individual contributions can range from brilliant to idiotic.  Committees tend to filter out both the brilliant and idiotic, leaving the banal.

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I think Dee Lee's recent foray into private industry may help her make some inroads. As for the other panelists, I see quite a few defenders of the status quo.

I don't know if I agree with you, Vern, that it's about age. I think leadership can spring from any source. Unfortunately, in the panel I see too many "leaders" who are called leaders based on official position, not on insight or on deeds accomplished. Thus, I suspect very little will come of this except to reiterate the need for the status quo.

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How many 1102's in their 20's and 30's can grasp the ostensible reasoning behind "raising the dollar threshold for the submission of certified cost or pricing data to an amount at which the likely benefit will exceed the requirement's costs", or knew that the "Defense Acquisition Regulation" was even a thing?  The problem is simply that 1102's in their 20's and 30's are still learning the ropes, and don't sit around ruminating on high-level process improvements, or work in a shop where C&P data is used, or care about SAP.   One of the great ironies is that the blue-hairs tend to be the only ones with enough experience to identify an issue, understand its relationship to other issues, and understand the implications of potential solutions (I did work with a colleague who became an SES at 29, but she had only major systems experience - and only lasted as an SES for 3 years.)

If you were up on murder charges, would you pick the radical and indecorous young firebrand as your lawyer, or the experienced old hand?  I agree new ideas are needed, but unworkable suggestions from inexperienced members of the community aren't really the answer.   In a quasi-legal field such as procurement, you can't really just throw an idea against the wall and see what sticks; you need a fully-formed idea from the get-go. 

In sum, great suggestions in principle, but nearly impossible in reality.

"Young people are the future; now belongs to us!"

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2 hours ago, REA'n Maker said:

How many 1102's in their 20's and 30's can grasp the ostensible reasoning behind "raising the dollar threshold for the submission of certified cost or pricing data to an amount at which the likely benefit will exceed the requirement's costs", or knew that the "Defense Acquisition Regulation" was even a thing?

This is not an indictment of those in their 20's and 30's. This speaks more about their trainers, mentors, and leaders who are responsible for ensuring followers are well trained and equipped to succeed.

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On 9/19/2016 at 3:22 PM, REA'n Maker said:

One of the great ironies is that the blue-hairs tend to be the only ones with enough experience to identify an issue, understand its relationship to other issues, and understand the implications of potential solutions

Was this meant to be some sort of tongue-in-cheek joke? If you sit a GS-7 near some sunlight, and make sure he is watered every day, eventually that GS-7 will grow into a GS-15 (much like a potted plant). PepeTheFrog is an old frog, but also self-aware. Are you an old frog?

On 9/19/2016 at 3:22 PM, REA'n Maker said:

If you were up on murder charges, would you pick the radical and indecorous young firebrand as your lawyer, or the experienced old hand?

That is not an analogous situation or relevant scenario, not even close.

On 9/19/2016 at 3:22 PM, REA'n Maker said:

How many 1102's in their 20's and 30's can grasp the ostensible reasoning behind "raising the dollar threshold for the submission of certified cost or pricing data to an amount at which the likely benefit will exceed the requirement's costs"

Every single one of them who has an intelligence level slightly above the average, to be conservative.

On 9/19/2016 at 3:22 PM, REA'n Maker said:

The problem is simply that 1102's in their 20's and 30's are still learning the ropes, and don't sit around ruminating on high-level process improvements, or work in a shop where C&P data is used, or care about SAP.

PepeTheFrog is a huge fan of stereotypes as an evolved method of dealing with a world of limited information and time, but not this one. Were you still learning the ropes in your thirties? Would you think highly of someone who was still learning the ropes ten years or more after starting? When you turned forty, did you finally start ruminating on high-level process improvements? What were you doing until you turned forty? PepeTheFrog is completely flabbergasted by this entire comment.

Now that PepeTheFrog has vented his green spleen, he apologizes, diplomatically, and hopes you take this as an invitation, not a condemnation. PepeTheFrog wants to know more about your opinions or suggestions, because there must be more to them. You stated that younger frogs are inexperienced and lack perspective, that you knew a young SES frog, that you prefer the safety of older attorneys, that unworkable suggestions are not the answer, and closed with a quotation about the present belonging to older frogs.

Do you have any workable suggestions, other than to ignore frogs under forty?

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On 9/19/2016 at 0:22 PM, REA'n Maker said:

How many 1102's in their 20's and 30's can grasp the ostensible reasoning behind "raising the dollar threshold for the submission of certified cost or pricing data to an amount at which the likely benefit will exceed the requirement's costs", or knew that the "Defense Acquisition Regulation" was even a thing?  The problem is simply that 1102's in their 20's and 30's are still learning the ropes, and don't sit around ruminating on high-level process improvements, or work in a shop where C&P data is used, or care about SAP.   One of the great ironies is that the blue-hairs tend to be the only ones with enough experience to identify an issue, understand its relationship to other issues, and understand the implications of potential solutions (I did work with a colleague who became an SES at 29, but she had only major systems experience - and only lasted as an SES for 3 years.)

If you were up on murder charges, would you pick the radical and indecorous young firebrand as your lawyer, or the experienced old hand?  I agree new ideas are needed, but unworkable suggestions from inexperienced members of the community aren't really the answer.   In a quasi-legal field such as procurement, you can't really just throw an idea against the wall and see what sticks; you need a fully-formed idea from the get-go. 

In sum, great suggestions in principle, but nearly impossible in reality.

"Young people are the future; now belongs to us!"

REA'n Maker,

Your post reeks of reverse ageism. 

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If anyone of any age would like to provide comments for the 809 Panel, you can do that through the public website at http://www.dau.mil/sec809/default.aspx  There is a link for submitting comments on the lower left quadrant of the page.  Please use the attached format so that the panel can understand which part of the acquisition regulations you think need improvement. ( Also, if you have any data or reports regarding your experience in that area of the acquisition process, please include it to allow the panel members the benefits of your experience in that area.  It is easier to make changes when ideas include "this is how it would play out at the desk level" and concrete examples and data that document the existing problem.)

Everyone within the acquisition process has valuable insight regarding the burdens particular regulations or policies place on them as they try to help DoD support its mission.

 

 

809 Acquisition Advisory Panel Comment Template.docx

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Evidently this panel has produced a draft proposal for a "Streamlined Procurement Procedure" that pertains to "awards of $10 million or less" and is currently putting together a roundtable of representatives from various DoD agencies to discuss/provide feedback on the procedure.  The proposal describing the new procedure was provided to the entire contracting workforce in my agency.

The proposal is pretty awful.

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