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He has a good point on a few things. For example, requirements are too easily changed from when they are generated in the field to when they are established as KPPs of whatever you are buying.

I think it would be easy to streamline the process, as there have been a good few examples of fielding something fast in comparison to the normal timeframe (MRAP, although the contracts portion of that is nuts). 50% however? I'm not sure if there is enough, for lack of a better term, political will to do it. I think the areas in which they'd be able to save time would end up being areas where significant money has usually been invested and they might be scared of the results of that finding.

I'm not even going to pretend to know the ins and outs of the defense acquisition process as a whole, but speaking strictly from a contracts perspective, there is definitely room for improvement. There are far too many reviews in place to the point where you are nit picking at very little aspects of documents that they add very little value. The audit process in general needs significant improvement (see Federal Times front page article today). DCAA is supposed to take 60-90 days to give you an audit, but they are taking 120+ days to give you an audit recently, if not longer. Requiring a legal sufficiency review for just about everything but not adequately staffing the legal office to handle that volume of work is causing delays of up to a month or two (not significant, but hey any time saved here is somewhat the point of the article).

This point here is strictly opinion as I have no evidence to back the point up, but I also question the push for competition on software or vehicle programs when they are so far into the program that you are going to spend significant time and/or money just for the sake of competing it. It takes a considerable amount of money to say..set up an assembly line for a vehicle. If you are 5-10 years into the program and you are only looking at producing say..under 1000 vehicles under x follow on contract, you aren't going to re-coop your costs of setting up that line. I'd also argue somewhat the same point in software development programs that are constantly evolving. If a certain contractor has been doing this for 10-15 years, any perspective offeror on said competition is going to have to spend significant time to interpret the code and understand it before they can start making improvements upon it, which is going to set your program back further and further. My point is, you would be wasting your time just for the sake of going through the motions of competition when you could of sole sourced it in the first place. This is a little focused at certain programs, and definitely doesn't represent what the whole of the DoD should do on a standard hardware buy.

Just my thoughts on it, which could be completely wrong. Feel free to point out any flaws in the thoughts above, I'm always willing and trying to learn more.

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How long should it take? I have a slightly different response. The acquisition cycle should not take any longer than the minimum time needed to satisfy an immediate need. Currently, the procurement cycle seems to follow Parkinson's law that a task expands or contracts to fit the time alloted to complete it. I base this on WW II era examples of how rapidly diverse projects were completed. First, let's start with the Jeep. As I recall, the prototype design contract was issued on a competitive basis with a 90 day response time. The production contract was awarded shortly after designs were received. We all know that the Jeep was manufactured in substantial quantities throughout the war and for decades thereafter. Next, the Pentagon was designed and completed within 18 months. Finally, the development of the atomic bomb took much shorter than most systems we develop today. More recent examples are the few months it took the Army to lauch a satellite after the project was taken from the Air Force following the launch of Sputnik, and President Kennedy's objective of puting a man on the moon before the end of the 1960's. Finally, we should look at the MRAP.

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Here's my favorite line " avoided over-reaching and over-engineering". I think that Mangers, Generals, and other important to themselves people that interfere in a project, causing delays and change orders, need to be lined up on the Washington Mall and shot. Once a year as an example to the rest.

The biggest problem with the acquisition cycle, IMO, is not mainly on the contract side. Even with the added reviews were talking a few weeks. How many months are added because someone didn't like a feature, or thought it could be better, or wanted a different color? The government should do what I had to do when I built my house. The drawings are complete, we get a price from the contractor, and one last chance to make changes. After that, it would have cost me an extra $250 per change order. Start charging budgets for change orders, and they'll wind down pretty quickly.

The reason that the Jeep and MRAP worked and were delivered so quickly was the urgency. There wasn't time for change orders. There wasn't time for higher ups to think that a manager is only effective when they leave their mark on everything. That's one of the biggest problems in not just acquisition, but project management in general. Design a project and build it. The F-15 seems to have done just fine getting updated throughout the years with newer technology. The same is true for every IT project ever completed. There's very little excuse for delays when the ability to change or upgrade is almost always there. And if not? Well maybe the Government should have written a better spec in the first place.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I think it is great that everyone is a proponent of streamlining acquisition processes. Might things take half the time? Sure. Will they take less time depends on the personnel assigned and the level of oversight, higher level reviews, and general statutory and/or regulatory compliance issues mandated for the particular project. I'm happy to support a work smarter approach as soon as congressional, administration and/or agency officials pay more than lip service and allow it to be possible.

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Meet the objectives (moving targets), do it faster, compete everything, always firm fixed price, make sure small business gets an ever increasing portion, but leverage buying power with strategic sourcing, get lower prices, follow all the rules/regs (even contradicting ones), and oh yeah, Government employees are overpaid.

Not trying to rant, but it seems the Government sets conflicting goals depending on the political environment. But in the end, I think the most glaring thing is not how much to reduce the acquisition cycle by, but rather the goal should be to measure it. Ridiculous that we don't have that data available. First goal is to measure, then make a decision.

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Let me take a stab from the contractors perspective or at least from the division I work at within a top 6 Defense Contractor. I would love for any Government agency to start the conversation with their budget and schedule constraints and let us tell them what we can do given their parameters. As the author stated, industry is usually pretty good at meeting schedules. However, this scenario is impossible when there isn't agreement on the Government's end on what they want to acquire.

In the example above, our company could say we can build you X in 9 months for Y dollars. Yet, unless the Government knows it wants X and not X+10, it doesn't matter.

In the end the two questions posed by the author are really similar to mass opinion that if the Government knows what it wants and doesn't change its mind, then the acquisition timeline can be reduced. Stop changing the requirements and save time, money and get things faster.

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very interesting article.

Here is a response, from a different slant, based on a very recent experience.

CS and CO work with end-user to determine the acquisition strategy for a requirement. Due diligence is done, market research, resources, internal/external contract vehicles available, etc.

Everything is hunky dory with our plan, which because of the $$ magnitude, must go through channels to the HCA for approval to proceed. Agency Procurement Manager is opposed to the strategy no reason given. Even though our proposed strategy is one of efficiency, meets competition and parity goals, etc. Everything grinds to a stop, while we have meetings, write additional rationale, re-do our diligence in the matter and so on.

Weeks later we get approval to proceed with our original strategy. At what cost/benefit to the Agency? None that I am aware of.

Yes, we can do things faster and better. People have to be able to make decisions and be confident in us underlings and our ability to propose viable work products.

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I can think of many things the government does that adds time and most are due to inexperience, lack of training, and the inability to try new and different things for fear of criticism. For starters, there's market research. Done properly and at the very beginning of the process it allows requirements to be drafted to promote competition and use the optimal acquisition strategy. The right strategy can save lots of time and expense. Instead most agencies do something like some internet browsing before they finalize their acquisition plan saying they conducted market research.

Then there are mandates to do things like use fixed price contracts even when it doesn't make a lot of sense. So you spend time formulating statements of needs that allow for fixed pricing and responding to industry questions to provide more information.

Instead of using existing contract vehicles such as GWACS, MACS, and GSA Schedules, many agencies feel a need to do their own contracts for a variety of reasons that just don't make sense. Then many agencies, even when using GSA Schedule, send the RFQ to all Schedule holders and face the huge task of evaluating lots of responses. That is done even when the FAR says you just need to solicit a sufficient number of sources to ensure 3 responses.

Then there is software development. The government usually tries to define all requirements up front even for major systems. All that takes months to award. Of course users want changes over the development time and technology also changes. The system gets delivered many yaers later than when started, meets a fraction of user needs, is very late, and cost much more than planned. Meanwhile industry is using things like agile development and while government CIOs say let's do it, acquisition personnel come up with reasons why you can't

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Nobody knows how long acquisition takes, especially for MDAPs. I would assert that nobody even knows how to accurately measure the length of an acquisition.

The author is using "SAR Years" but that's not necessarily going to yield an accurate measurement.

SAR Years is a measurement of government activity. What about contractor activity?

Contractors typically start MDAP risk-reduction efforts, with a goal of showing improved Technology Readiness Levels, years before a draft RFP is issued. Contractors are making big dollar investments on IR&D and via use of company funds, long before a bidders list is compiled.

So before I can weigh in on the questions posed by the author, I think we need to agree on the metrics.

H2H

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Guest Vern Edwards

Nobody knows how long acquisition takes, especially for MDAPs. I would assert that nobody even knows how to accurately measure the length of an acquisition.

Truer words have never been spoken.

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