Pentagon Warns of Losing Its Tech Edge

Army Lt. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, center right, commander of I Corps, is briefed by his staff during a combined arms rehearsal meeting for Ulchi Freedom Guardian at Camp Yongin, South Korea, Aug. 21, 2014. Army Lt. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, center right, commander of I Corps, is briefed by his staff during a combined arms rehearsal meeting for Ulchi Freedom Guardian at Camp Yongin, South Korea, Aug. 21, 2014. Sgt. Daniel Schroeder/Defense Department

The Defense Department’s top acquisition officer on Friday unveiled a preview of the coming third iteration of its Better Buying Power initiative, stressing a new focus on technical excellence that one contractor group criticized as too internally oriented.

“Underpinning BBP 3.0 is the growing concern that the United States’ technological superiority over potential adversaries is being threatened today in a way that we have not seen for decades,” said a white paper summarized by Frank Kendall, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “Our technical superiority is . . . eroding because we’re not making the investments we should be making,” in part because of sequestration, he added.

The new version of Better Buying Power will help strengthen the professionalism of the acquisition workforce and improve the department’s relationship with industry by removing “barriers and red tape to ensure the department can achieve dominance while still controlling lifecycle costs,” the undersecretary said.

Kendall emphasized the continuity between BBP 3.0 and previous versions -- one released in June 2010 focused on best practices and another in November 2012 stressed critical thinking and improved decision-making tools. “BBP 3.0 continues the focus on continuous improvement,” he said.

The acquisition strategy focuses on eight areas: affordability; achieving dominant capabilities while controlling lifecycle costs; incentivizing productivity in industry and government; incentivizing innovation in industry and government; eliminating unproductive processes and bureaucracy; promoting effective competition; improving tradecraft in acquisition of services; and improving the professionalism of the acquisition workforce.

Overall, Kendall said, the initiative seeks to balance technological development with affordability. “We have no choice,” he added, according to a Pentagon transcript of his remarks. “We can’t be complacent and sit and wait. We have to have decisions about how to use our resources in some way to stay ahead of the other guys.”

The white paper notes “there has been a remarkable leveling of the state of technology in the world, where commercial technologies with military applications such as advanced computing technologies, microelectronics, sophisticated sensors, and many advanced materials, are now widely available.”

In response to the preview, the Professional Services Council, a contractor group with 380 member companies, commended Kendall’s effort but criticized it as insufficiently broad and forward-looking as well as too incremental.

“The goals of BBP 3.0 make eminent sense, as do many of its individual elements. But the devil is always in the details or lack thereof,” said President and CEO Stan Soloway in a Friday statement.

“BBP 3.0 is too focused on internal process changes rather than achieving extraordinary outcomes and too many of the barriers to real innovation and efficiency remain unaddressed,” Soloway said.

The contractors would have liked to have seen more adoption of its earlier reform proposals, he added, “particularly with regard to achieving speed to outcome, deriving maximum value through acquisition, accessing innovation, improving tradecraft in services, and substantially enhancing the capabilities of the acquisition workforce.”

The Aerospace Industries Association is still studying the document, according to a Monday statement from Mary Jane Mitchell, managing assistant vice president for national security and acquisition policy. “Understanding acquisition policy’s consequences for the defense industrial base in a holistic manner, including overcoming the barriers to doing business with DOD (e.g.: commercial items concerns, intellectual property rights, the high cost of compliance and overcoming the limitations FACA presents, which Kendall alluded to) are all areas we will address in our feedback,” her statement said.

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