A remarkable opportunity awaits the Space Force to take a bold new approach to acquisition and synergistic relationships for delivering new capabilities more effectively, faster, and affordably. The DOD’s arcane business processes are like flying a straight wing aircraft with reciprocating engines. We want to go beyond orbit with hyper-speed and establish dominance beyond the terrestrial.
There are few subjects of study with more empirical evidence for failing to perform than the DOD acquisition system for delivering new capability. This multi-generational problem continues to get worse. There is a reason that waves of acquisition reform have failed to result in significant or sustained improvement. The reason is that the reforms have all taken place in the context of modifications to a highly regulated purchasing system. Real reform and improvement require abandoning a system that is focused on only one relationship, the buyer-seller relationship. In a highly technical world of advanced concepts and engineering, collaboration bears tremendous fruit. Stuck in a buyer-seller mentality, creativity is underappreciated and hindered in favor of competition. Competition and compliance is nice, but it lacks courage and fails to create and deliver like high levels of collaboration and synergistic relationships. Relationships which are largely absent, if not impossible to create, under the traditional system. The current system notably stifles creativity necessary for innovation and is unable to keep pace with technological advancement, or even business relationships.
FAR 35.002 states: The primary purpose of contracted R&D programs is to advance scientific and technical knowledge and apply that knowledge to the extent necessary to achieve agency and national goals. The same section goes on to state that most R&D contracts are: “unlike contracts for supplies and services…”
Readers of this article will either understand that there is a problem, or they will reject the idea. For those that understand the problem, what is the opportunity awaiting the Space Force? The opportunity is that the needed elements to adopt an alternative to the overregulated FAR purchasing system exist. What’s more, Congress has directed DOD (1) to create a preference for using them and (2) educate its workforce in their use.
Other Transactions (OTs) are flexible contracts, which means flexible business, totally outside of the Federal Acquisition Regulations constructs. That means smart program teams are free to experiment with a variety of different business and collaborative approaches to achieve mission goals and deliver with greater effectiveness and expediency. The approach to OTs has been narrow-minded. Barely the surface has been scratched on facilitation, collaboration, strategy, resource sharing, or even private investment. OTs are far broader than most realize and allow for a variety of different approaches depending on the mission and goals. This is big opportunity for Space Force! Cast off old entropic thinking for something new. Other Transactions are FAR out!
Unlike other parts of DOD, the Space Force does not have unlearn indoctrinated thinking before it can learn how do to business with greater flexibility and collaboration. This is a clear advantage, one that hopefully will not succumb to business-as-usual. Let’s pray.
The Congressional mandates to which Space Force should give effect are included in the following list.
Create a preference for using Other Transactions and Procurement for Experimental Purposes (Sec. 867, NDAA 2018).
In the execution of science and technology and prototyping programs, the Secretary of Defense shall establish a preference, to be applied in circumstances determined appropriate by the Secretary, for using transactions other than contracts, cooperative agreements, and grants entered into pursuant to sections 2371 and 2371b of title 10, United States Code, and authority for procurement for experimental purposes pursuant to section 2373 of title 10, United States Code.
Educate the workforce, including program managers, on Other Transactions and innovative contracting approaches (10 U.S.C. 2371 (g).
(g) Education and Training.-The Secretary of Defense shall-
(1) ensure that management, technical, and contracting personnel of the Department of Defense involved in the award or administration of transactions under this section or other innovative forms of contracting are afforded opportunities for adequate education and training.
Adopt a dual-use approach to science and technology projects (10 U.S.C. 2501(b)).
(b) Civil-Military Integration Policy.-The Secretary of Defense shall ensure that the United States attains the national technology and industrial base objectives set forth in subsection (a) through acquisition policy reforms that have the following objectives:
(1) Relying, to the maximum extent practicable, upon the commercial national technology and industrial base that is required to meet the national security needs of the United States.
(2) Reducing the reliance of the Department of Defense on technology and industrial base sectors that are economically dependent on Department of Defense business.
(3) Reducing Federal Government barriers to the use of commercial products, processes, and standards.
This short article will hopefully encourage folks at Space Force to think. Competition can spur innovation and may have other virtues. It is not a panacea, however. In pursuing innovative solutions, particularly high-tech innovative solutions, collaboration may be a more effective approach than competition. Other Transactions can take many forms and permit a variety of relationships. Breaking the mold and mindset of the buyer-seller relationship in contracted R&D is just one step. The most important innovation for DOD is innovation in its business processes; not just contracting, but budget and requirements generation and other areas as well.