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:
The panel's congressionally mandated mission is as follows:
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.