Acquisition Practices

Incredible amounts of time and energy have been expended with respect to defining and reforming the processes involved in the acquisition of systems, especially in the government. These efforts, of course, have major impacts on industry and so various companies and industry groups have had significant inputs to the thinking that has gone into acquisition change and reform.

The motivation for acquisition reform has been centered around three key issues—speeding up the process, competition, and fairness. The first of these has been felt rather strongly because the time for the acquisition of large-scale systems has become longer and longer. Indeed, many systems are almost obsolete by the time all the preliminary phases are executed and the system is finally fielded. For both government and industry, this is an intolerable condition. With respect to competition and fairness, the number of award protests has increased dramatically in government systems procurements for a variety of reasons. The resolution of these protests has also had a major impact on the time required to acquire a system.

Chapters 2 and 7 discussed the rather large documents known as the 5000 series in the Department of Defense (DoD). This series incorporated a directive, instruction, and documentation requirement and process for the acquisition of military systems. Collectively, they are extensive in their scope and penetrating in their detail.

A number of so-called acquisition reform initiatives have been important to the government. Two such efforts were the Federal Acquisition Reform Act (FARA) and the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act (FASA) [12.30]. Judging from the extensive dialogue on these matters, reengineering acquisition practices has been and remains a distinctly nontrivial exercise. By looking at the practices over the past thirty years, continuing attention to these matters can be expected to be with us for the indefinite future. These practices impact the way both project managers and systems engineers do their jobs, especially during the proposal development phase.

Another major thrust in the direction of acquisition reform developed internally within the DoD in order to solve some of the problems alluded to earlier. This was basically initiated by the Secretary of Defense in his memorandum of June 29, 1994 [12.31], which called for a move from military specifications and standards to increased use of best commercial practices. The stage was set for this definitive action during the previous year when the Deputy Under Secretary for Acquisition Reform established a Process Action Team (PAT). The charter for this PAT [12.32] was to develop

(a) a comprehensive plan to ensure that DOD describes its needs in ways that permit maximum reliance on existing commercial items, practices, processes and capabilities, and (b) an assessment of the impact of the recommended actions on the acquisition process.

The PAT produced a ''Blueprint for Change'' [12.33], which highlighted some thirteen principal recommendations, reproduced in Exhibit 12.2. These activities, along with an implementation plan, defined a significant trend toward acquisition reform that is undeniable. Although some parties suggested more far-reaching approaches [12.32], there is no doubt that reform of the way in which the government acquires large systems is necessary. All of this represents an environment in which both the Project Manager and the systems engineering team must do their jobs.

Exhibit 12.2: Thirteen Principal Recommendations of the Process Action Team (PAT) on Military Specifications and Standards [12.32]

1. All ACAT [Acquisition Category] Programs for new systems, major modifications, technology generation changes, nondevelopmental items, and commmercial items shall state needs in terms of performance specifications.

2. Direct that manufacturing and management standards be canceled or converted to performance or nongovernment standards.

3. Direct that all new high value solicitations and ongoing contracts will have a statement encouraging contractors to submit alternative solutions to military specifications and standards.

4. Prohibit the use of military specifications and standards for all ACAT programs except when authorized by the Service Acquisition Executives or designees.

5. Form partnerships with industry associations to develop nongovernment standards for the replacement of military standards where practical.

6. Direct government oversight be reduced by substituting process control and nongovernment standards in place of development/production testing and inspection and military unique quality assurance systems.

7. Direct a goal of reducing the cost of contractor-conducted development and production test and inspection by using simulation, environmental testing, dual-use test facilties, process controls, metrics, and continuous process improvement.

8. Assign Corporate Information Management offices for specifications and standards preparation and use.

9. Direct use of automation to improve the processes associated with the development and application of specifications and standards and Data Item Descriptions (DIDs).

10. Direct the application of automated aids in acquisition.

11. Direct revision of the training and education programs to incorporate specifications and standards reform. Contractor participation in this training effort shall be invited and encouraged.

12. Senior DoD management take a major role in establishing the environment essential for acquisition reform cultural change.

13. Formalize the responsibility and authority of the Standards Improvement Executives, provide the authority and resources necessary to implement the standards improvement program within their service/ agency, and assign a senior official with specifications and standards oversight and policy authority.

A particular response to the preceding was the formulation, by the Department of Defense, of an Evolutionary Acquisition Strategy to acquire weapon systems [12.34]. In this approach, the Joint Logistics Commanders gave their formal guidance to Program Managers. They expressed their belief that such an approach provided ''a good alternative means to develop and acquire weapon systems while providing for incremental growth over time,'' and recommended that the Guide be used as a ''foundation for effective weapon system acquisition planning.'' Further, the Evolutionary Acquisition (EA) Process was defined as

A strategy for use when it is anticipated that achieving the desired overall capability will require the system to evolve during development, manufacture or deployment.

The Guide goes on to indicate that the EA approach was basically the same as Preplanned Product Improvement (P3I), one of the elements of systems engineering, as defined herein. This suggests that new trends may be established by reordering priorities and changing emphasis with respect to elements and processes that already have been well understood. This is an observation that should be kept in mind by Project Managers and systems engineers.

Much of the detail regarding DoD processes and products attendant to the acquisition of systems is contained within the latest version of the DoD 5000 series [12.35]. These documents tend to be updated every several years or so as we gain deeper insights into acquisition matters or wish to change emphasis within overarching goals and objectives. One significant statement of such goals is cited below, as contained within a description of the ''Road Ahead'' by the then Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology, Jacques Gansler [12.36]:

Goal One: Field high-quality defense products quickly; support them responsively

Goal Two: Lower the total ownership cost of defense products

Goal Three: Reduce the overhead cost of the acquisition and logistics infrastructure

Looking down the road, a variety of study teams explored issues and problems in acquisition and logistics, dealing with the following topics:

• Research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) infrastructure

• Product support

• Requirements and acquisition interfaces

• Training and tools for acquisition of services

• Commercial business environment

Integrating the results of these primary studies, as well as other inputs, led to the articulation of some near-term actions that are critically important to the DoD. These are [12.36]:

1. Increased reliance on an integrated civil-military industrial base

2. A new approach to acquisition whereby ''price and schedule play a key role in driving design development and systems are reviewed by portfolio''

3. A transformation of the mass logistics system into one that is agile, reliable, and delivers logistics on demand

4. Reduction of acquisition infrastructure and overhead functions and costs

5. A workforce that is adequately trained to ''operate efficiently in this new environment and will perpetuate continuous improvement''

6. The institutionalization of continuous improvement as well as change management so as to achieve a virtual learning environment.

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