Air Force pushes new round of acquisition reform

The Air Force kicked off seven new acquisition reform initiatives on Friday.

The seven initiatives are part of the Air Force's "Lightning Bolts '99" program, designed to improve procurement at the service. Under one key part of the program, the Air Force is encouraging its procurement personnel to use alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to settle disagreements with contractors.

"My motto is ADR first," said Darleen Druyun, the Air Force's principal deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and management, at a kick-off event broadcast over the Internet. "When you reach an impasse, the worst thing you can do is turn to your lawyers."

Druyun said the Air Force spends $30 million litigating contract disputes each year. That money, she argued, could be used for better weapons systems if the Air Force tried settle disputes with contractors in informal mediation sessions.

The Air Force will also train some personnel as "source selection expert advisors." The advisors will be trained on how to pick contractors that offer the best value to the Air Force, rather than those that simply make the lowest bid.

In addition to alternative dispute resolution and source selection experts, the other five initiatives are:

  • Send contracting officers on deployments with Air Force units. Having contracting experts on hand will help commanders get the equipment they need when they need it, the Air Force says.
  • Expand the use of purchase cards and other efforts to pay contractors faster.
  • Encourage close working relationships between the Air Force and contractors on weapons systems development. Such "public-private partnerships" can speed up development and reduce costs, the Air Force says.
  • Make better use of market research to make sure the Air Force gets the best deal, and use so-called "price-based" strategies for contracts, rather than lengthy cost analyses.
  • Improve the acquisition support team at the Air Force Materiel Command. The team should provide expert help to contracting officers throughout the Air Force.

The original "Lightning Bolts" program, created in 1995, featured 11 initiatives. It led to more than $30 billion in cost savings and cost avoidance, the Air Force says.

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