WASHINGTON — It’s well past time for the Pentagon to revamp its acquisition processes so the private sector can boost its role in technology development, a key Pentagon advisory panel said on Thursday.
At a Pentagon meeting, the Defense Business Board unanimously approved far-reaching recommendations meant to improve DoD’s business dealings with the private sector, particularly companies that have not traditionally sought defense contracts.
The recommendations came from a report by a DBB task force led by David Langstaff and set up in the wake of much talk about the private sector’s ability to rapidly develop new products, while the military has difficulty getting a program off the ground before its technology is nearly obsolete.
In the report, the task force says “DoD lacks sufficient understanding of business operating models and drivers of innovation” to fully take advantage of all that the private sector has to offer. It said many in the private sector see DoD as being “against profit, against industry and against commercial procurement.”
The Army, in particular, has tried to include private companies in its biannual Network Integration Evaluation events at Fort Bliss, Texas. But many still bristle at the Army’s strict guidelines, long development schedules, and the lack of purchasing power. Nor have they been happy with the service’s demand that industry foot the bill to develop technologies and to pay to demonstrate them for the government.
Among the recommendations: calling for the defense secretary to set Federal Acquisition Regulation Part 12 Acquisition of Commercial Items “as default procurement method for non-platform acquisitions” while also requiring new platforms to be built with modular or open architectures that allow some modernization without overhauling the entire system.
Borrowing from former Defense Secretary Bob Gates, who often complained that Pentagon programs seek “exquisite” technology rather than a timelier 80 percent solution, the report said Pentagon contracting officers and program managers must accept “good enough” if they are to encourage more private-sector participation.
The report notes, however, that big defense players benefit from a Pentagon-created “closed system” that “keeps commercial competitors out” and “locks in high-priced customer buying behavior.”
Langstaff’s report also warned defense leaders that “commercial players are innovating elsewhere, de-emphasizing or exiting [the] DoD market” while at the same time “investment capital looking elsewhere to invest.”
The report said the defense industry still has talent and the ability to innovate but the defense secretary and other DoD leaders must tear down stovepipes and open competition to unlock it. ■