Summary: Rebecca M. Cowen-Hirsch, Inmarsat's SVP, Government Strategy and Policy, U.S. Government, on why the LPTA acquisition approach is not the right fit for SATCOM
In this era of restrained federal spending, agencies are under increasing pressure to conform to lowest price technically acceptable (LPTA) policies for purchases. Under LPTA, decision-makers select vendors who offer a technically acceptable proposal at the lowest evaluated price. Hardly immune to such pressures, the Department of Defense (DoD) has moved forward in this direction.
We feel that LPTA has its place, even in the military community, especially when we are assessing vendors who operate within a commoditized environment.
Take flak jackets, for example. It is relatively easy for DoD contract managers to set "hard" requirements for the flak jackets and then allow vendors to compete on the contract by offering the best price or bulk purchase/lot discounts. For these and other assembly-line type products, LPTA fulfills mission-supporting objectives without giving servicemen and women anything less than they deserve – at the very best price available. Within this context, we should certainly proceed under the guidelines of LPTA.
Satellite communications (SATCOM), however, is far from an assembly-line product.
It does not fit a commoditized, "one size fits all" description. Every procurement presents an array of choices. These may include security requirements (such as encryption differentiators), geographic requirements and functionality such as video distribution, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) demands, as well as additional capability-focused considerations.
In other words, use the right tool for the right job. If agencies applied LPTA in its purest form to SATCOM acquisition, they would buy the equivalent of a pocket-sized pickaxe to tear down a wall when they really need a big, sturdy mattock. It is true that the pickaxe will (eventually) do the job. But you will gain superior efficiencies, performance delivery – i.e., value creation – through the better tool.
When human lives and critical missions are on the line, it is difficult to justify an LPTA approach to SATCOM acquisition, especially when satellite systems offer so much. Ku-band is prolific, establishing infrastructure as a commodity. Ka-band provides outstanding throughput, resiliency and steer-ability. L-band brings the penetration required for high availability. Agencies should opt for a blend today, not a blunt, one-size-fits-all "formula."
To respond to this, Inmarsat is leading the charge for "SATCOM as a service," to pave the way for agencies to integrate complex solutions within an end-to-end managed services architecture. Through SATCOM as a service, DoD and private industry work as partners to foster greater innovation, all in the interest of giving soldiers the right tools for the job. at hand.
Through an integrated blend, the military community takes advantage of SATCOM systems that enable full functionality at a US-based terminal one day, and then the same level of capability when a unit mobilizes to Africa, or anywhere else in the world 24 hours later. Whether the mission supports combat, humanitarian or peacekeeping objectives, users rely upon highly secure, portable access with optimal resiliency and flexibility, along with maximum bandwidth for voice/video/data information exchange.
At Inmarsat, we understand government requirements, and we believe These requirements can be satisfied while still empowering users with the most flexible and current communications. A higher quality of services and technologies must continue to support modern-era SATCOM. This standard is simply not achievable under LPTA. We need to aim higher when military missions – and lives – are at stake.
About the author
Rebecca M. Cowen-Hirsch is Inmarsat Senior Vice President for Government Strategy and Policy in the United States Government (USG) Business Unit, based in Washington. Ms. Cowen-Hirsch brings 25 years of defense, aerospace, and executive leadership experience to Inmarsat. As a decorated member of the Senior Executive Service (SES) in the U.S. Department of Defense, she served as the Program Executive Officer for SATCOM, Teleport and Services at the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and in several key SES executive positions including the first Vice Component Acquisition Executive for DISA, with executive management responsibility for the acquisition oversight and horizontal integration of DISA's products, services, and programs. Ms Cowen-Hirsch established the Defense Spectrum Office, serving as its first Director where her responsibilities included the development of national security spectrum strategic plans and policy, and national and international negotiation of defense spectrum issues. Her broad defense career ranged from systems engineering, experimental flight test, program management, spectrum management, and a wide range of executive leadership positions. Ms. Cowen-Hirsch was a rated experimental flight test engineer; was the first female civilian Mission Commander for the Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft (ARIA) mission, and was the recipient of an Exemplary Service Medal for her years of selfless service to the Department of Defense. Ms Cowen-Hirsch has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering, conducted post-graduate studies in Engineering Management, and is a graduate of the University of Tennessee Space Institute Experimental Flight Test Program; the DoD's Acquisition Management Program; and the Cambridge Senior Executive Leadership Program.