A Folksy Musing on Other Transactions Authority (OTA)

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Written by Strategic Institute Staff –


Having lived in ‘transitioning neighborhoods’ in urban cores most of my adult life I became familiar with a particular defeatist, apathetic behavior.  It is not uncommon to walk down the street and hear a person say, “Someone should do something about that,” usually referring to the trash or overall poor condition of the surrounding area, often while flicking another piece of garbage toward the gutter.  It’s somebody else’s fault, usually the government or some mysterious unidentified third party.  One thing is clear, the person uttering the words and contributing to the problem does not bare any responsibility. In the same neighborhood there are the ‘believers’ who shine with different attitude; those who actually do something about it. They recognize the tools they already have and get to work creating the neighborhood in which they wish to live; never needing to rely on some mysterious higher authority.

Not unlike the ‘guys’ sitting on a stoop in the city saying “Somebody should do something about that,” it has become fashionable to complain about the poor state of the DoD and federal acquisition system.  Almost daily there is an editorial deriding the current system, with good reason, usually offering vague solutions or overly ambitious expectations that all should be rapidly overhauled.   The problems are well known, suggested solutions are many, but those willing to pick up the tools already provided and get to work are in short supply.  After the problems have been identified, complaining does little more than bolster the short-term self esteem of the person doing it.  For it to be fruitful, positive action must occur.

For years, nearly three decades, the tools provided by Other Transactions Authority (OTA) have been expanded and refined, yet many still do not know how to use them, remain woefully under-utilized, and others still unused.  OTAs are specialty instruments purposefully designed to improve efficiency, better outcomes, and reduce costs and barriers to entry in federal acquisition that can be the core of an alternative system.  Some have rushed to judgment on OTAs, most likely as result of inexperience; the potential of an instrument is limited by the user.  The detractors of OTAs seemingly possess magical a priori knowledge before experience and the potential is realized.  Change is hard, especially in a bureaucracy; it requires a talented few with courage to lead the way.  Whenever innovation occurs there will be voices coming from those vested in the status quo, or unable to understand, that will disparage the new.  Pursuits worth doing are rarely easy and simply complaining is of little merit.   The time has come, the future is now, let’s pick up the tools and get to work.

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” –
Arthur Schopenhauer


The few who understand the potential of OTAs and really ‘get it’ frequently ask, “Why aren’t these more widely used?” or “Why isn’t it already standard to use OTAs for prototyping or R&D?”  The response in return is “Yes.”

Conclusion:  Congress has provided the DoD and a number of other agencies with Other Transactions Authority and with no lack of clarity is encouraging these instruments to be used.  The reluctance is not legislative but cultural and poor understanding within the agencies and departments.  Most likely if you are reading this, that somebody who should do something… is you.

“A new … truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”  – Max Plank



*blog piece written by non-technical member of SI staff