DOD photo by Thomas L. Burton

For Defense IT, Acquisitions Need to Be More Than 'Just in Time'

Contract planning and boosting small business in 2022 are top of mind for Debra Daniels, the vice procurement services executive for the Defense Information Systems Agency.

Just two months into 2022 and the Defense Information Systems Agency has already had a busy year. The defense IT agency recently announced three major contract awards from its zero trust-focused Thunderdome initiative to its much-anticipated Defense Enclaves Services contract, a potentially $11.5 billion contract geared towards consolidating IT services across the defense support agencies. 

But besides executing the agency's refreshed strategic plan, Debra Daniels, the vice procurement services executive and deputy director for DISA's defense IT contracting organization for the Defense Information Systems Agency, told FCW that the agency is focused on growing the defense industrial base (and small business partners), boosting its use of other transaction agreements, and sharpening its contract planning. 

On contract planning, Daniels said DISA wants to synchronize efforts across the agency's portfolios "so we're not just in time that we're actually focused." That approach means looking at acquisitions, particularly large ones, about two years from award, while tracking changes in requirements both internally and from the Defense Department to make sure things stay on schedule and on budget. 

But small business development is top of mind for Daniels, who previously led operations for the Small Business Administration's government contracting division. Daniels said DISA's small business goal has increased to 25% for 2022 and so far it's exceeded some of its benchmarks. 

"I know our [competition and small business] goals will definitely increase…as we focus on building the defense industrial base," Daniels said. 

"I will say this year, we definitely set three new records as far as our small business goals – with about $1.6 billion in the portfolio – [and] exceeded our women-owned small business goal, our historically underutilized business zone goals, the HUBZone goal, and our small disadvantaged business goal."

The Pentagon recently released a report analyzing the lack of competition in the defense industry base, particularly as a result of consolidation. And Daniels noted that activity wasn't just reserved for big defense contractors that build planes and ships – but can affect systems integrators and software-focused companies too. 

"Yes, we have seen some of that. And we're not immune to that, it also raises the bar for entry points, for the new applicants. So you're seeing business partnerships, relationships, small businesses as subcontractors on a lot of our offerings," Daniels said. 

"Because we know competition brings out the best, at least some of our best pricing in efforts. And that's why I said one of my biggest things [this year] is competition, making sure we exceed our goals, that we give everyone a fair opportunity to compete."

Defense officials have talked about increasing small business partnerships in recent years, particularly through rapid acquisitions authorities that can help the Defense Department quickly bring on a startup to develop a prototype. But there have been concerns about scale and then transitioning that prototype to a program of record. 

DISA has had some success there, especially with other transaction agreements. 

The agency currently has a total of eight ongoing other transaction agreements. Four are for prototypes – the Telecommunications Advanced Research and Dynamic Spectrum Sharing Systems Tool Suite, Thunderdome, the GPS Based Clutter Loss Measurement and Enterprise Data Optimization Tool. And four are for production, including the Cloud Based Internet Isolation program, Mobile Endpoint Protection, Cyber Asset Inventory Management, Identity, Credentialing and Access Management.

 The plan, Daniels said, is to increase that and look for options "where a technology is not heavily adopted by industry," in other parts of the federal government, or where there's no record of performance. 

"We have had great success in that," she said. "So that is not going to stop, I think it's definitely going to increase for us because, as you've mentioned, it has netted great value particularly on the software side, and a lot of them have been set aside for small businesses. So I think definitely, under that adaptive framework, we're definitely going to increase OTAs."

But there's no set target for that increase from year-to-year, Daniels said, noting that DISA's program, contracting, and legal offices determine which acquisitions would best fit OTA criteria before committing to that path.