Sabotaging Innovation – Using a Procurement System for R&D

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In this podcast episode Strategic Institute talks about DoD’s continued reliance on a procurement system for R&D and advancing new capability.

“if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” – Abraham Maslow

The DoD habitually uses the wrong contractual instrument to achieve its stated goals for the important work of advancing knowledge and delivering new capability to the field. The Federal Acquisition Regulations-based procurement system forces a buyer/seller relationship. However, the business and desired outcomes of R&D are very different from purchasing stuff and services. For at least three decades, some of our Nation’s brightest minds and experts have indicated the need for the use of flexible “commercial-like” contracts and business arrangements by empowered and protected teams to better support objectives and improve outcomes for R&D, prototyping, and most importantly getting new capability into the war-fighters hands. Performance has gotten so bad for the ancient and beleaguered procurement system, that several years ago Congress mandated that DoD develop a ‘preference’ for using flexible contracts and business arrangements, and went on to mandate that ‘management, technical and contracting’ personnel get spun up. While DoD has expanded its use of flexible contracting authorities, they remain limited by the framework and understanding of the existing system, and education is virtually non-existent. Unfortunately the mandated flexible contracting authorities are viewed through the lenses of the current procurement system. By and large, minus a few bright spots, no significant change in acquisition for R&D has occurred, though the need becomes more dire with every passing day. Our near peers are catching up, have caught up, or are passing us by. This seems like a red alert, all hands on deck situation, yet the response has been confusion and inaction.

This is a straightforward fix: use the correct contractual instruments for the mission. The use of Other Transactions Agreements for R&D have been mandated by Congress, have been specifically created for R&D, and ARE the correct contractual instruments.

Related article: Appropriate Contractual Instruments for R&D