DoD wants to cut contracting time by 50 percent as part of AT&L split

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As the Pentagon prepares to split its acquisition office, the Defense Department’s top buyer is setting a goal to cut contract delivery time by 50 percent.

Ellen Lord, who will likely be the last defense undersecretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, wants DoD to take advantage of new authorities given to the department in order to speed up the delivery time from when the Pentagon requests a product and when it’s delivered.

“Other transaction authorities, I think we see the Air Force doing a nice job with some of those and, frankly, we don’t have all of our staff that are totally cognizant of what those authorities are and what we can do and what we can’t do. What we are trying to do is develop an environment where people are comfortable saying ‘Hey, what if?’ and I’m trying to say ‘Yes, if’ versus ‘No’ to things,” Lord told reporters after an Oct. 11 speech at an Association of the United States Army event in Washington.

She added that DoD has created a risk averse culture because it makes such a public exhibition of programs that stumbled. Lord said she wants stumbling to happen earlier in the acquisition cycle where it is less costly.

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The initiative is a small bite into the larger reorganization of the acquisition office mandated by Congress in last year’s defense authorization act.

Another aspect of cutting contract time involves simplifying the acquisition process. Lord said Congress has been cooperative with DoD about peeling back some regulations that do not make sense to the department, but would not go into specifics as to which areas were discussed.

“I’m extremely encouraged by what I see and I think these [defense authorization acts] have gotten long and long and more directive because perhaps we haven’t been responding in the way we could within the building. One of the major objectives I have is to clear some of that out,” Lord said.

The acquisition office set the 50 percent goal last month.

If all of this sounds familiar it’s because much of it is a continuation of former acquisition chiefs Ash Carter and Frank Kendall’s Better Buying Power initiatives. Better Buying Power was an attempt to get rid of unproductive practices, implement best practices from industry and promote competition.

Another thing Lord is doing, which harkens back to Kendall, is keeping close ties with industry. Lord said she is meeting with defense business organizations that represent small, medium and larger sized businesses like the National Defense Industrial Association and the Aerospace Industries Association on a quarterly basis.

She’s also meeting with the big six prime contractors on a regular basis. The meetings are reminiscent of Kendall’s captains of industry powwows, which brought together top business leaders in the defense community.

Lord mentioned she is straying away from one-on-one meetings with companies because she wants to work with a broad range of businesses.

Office split

As a larger part of the goal to cut delivery time, the acquisition office is facing a mandate to split its office by February 2018.

The 2017 defense authorization act splits the acquisition office into a research and engineering position and a day-to-day acquisition policy position.

The hope is to give the research and engineering side more time to innovate and not worry about mundane buying tasks.

The research and engineering side will work on prototyping, experimentation, tech transition, tech development, allocation of resources of research and unifying research efforts.

On the other hand, DoD has assigned roles like acquisition policy design, procurement of goods and services, sustainment policy, logistics, maintenance, industrial base policy, contract administration, nuclear modernization and countering weapons of mass destruction to the acquisition and sustainment side of the house.

Lord said her initial reaction is DoD spends a lot of time on the acquisition side and very little time on the experimentation and sustainment side.

“We are taking little bites of things before the full reorganization,” Lord said.

Lord said her office would work up through to February on the split. The split will be more of a process than an event and may split certain functions off slower than others.

“I think we’ll have at least an 80 percent solution that we can speak to Congress and everyone else about. I think that we owe some responses to them before going public with that, but we’re very much on the way of getting that going,” Lord said.

Lord is also working on issues from previous defense authorization acts as well. Two years ago, Congress told DoD to give more acquisition authority to the military services.

DoD is working to comply with that. Lord said she is looking through the major acquisition programs right now and is looking at transitioning a bulk of them back to the services. The only programs that will stay within the acquisition office are extremely complex programs or programs that are part of multiple services.