Photo of Adelicia R. CliffePhoto of Kate M. Growley, CIPP/G, CIPP/US

On December 10, 2019, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, Ellen Lord, briefed the press on the Department of Defense’s (DoD) significant acquisition reform achievements in 2019 and outlined many of the DoD’s top priorities for the coming year. Among a litany of other topics, the Secretary discussed efforts to streamline the defense acquisition system; initiatives to further reduce supply chain risk; and strategies for combatting the threat posed by unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

 

Efforts to Streamline the Defense Acquisition System

This year, according to the Secretary, the DoD took several major steps towards ensuring the defense acquisition system “moves at the speed of relevance.” During the briefing, for example, Secretary Lord touted “a 50% reduction in procurement administrative lead time from 32 to 16 months for multiple pathfinder projects.” She also highlighted the importance of Other Transaction Authority (OTA) transactions as a mechanism to “allow innovation to bypass bureaucracy.” In 2019, the DoD saw OTA transactions triple from $1.4 billion in 2016 to $3.7 billion. “Just as encouraging,” Secretary Lord said, “88% of OTA business is with companies who typically did not do business previously with the government.”

Building on these recent improvements, several more impactful changes are also nearing completion. Secretary Lord said the DoD expects to complete the final rewrite of DoD Directive 5000.01 and DoD Instruction 5000.02 prior to the new year, which she characterized as “the most transformational change to acquisition policy in decades.” Also addressed were the adaptive acquisition framework, a data-driven initiative to show contracting officials “what right looks like on certain types of acquisitions,” and the middle tier of acquisition policy, a program intended to enable program managers to prototype and field mature technology in an operational environment within five years. These two programs are expected to come online in early 2020.

 

Initiatives to Further Reduce Supply Chain Risk

The DoD also continues to focus intently on supply chain risk management. During her press briefing, Secretary Lord discussed both the long awaited Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) program and the more recent push to identify and vet trusted capital providers for emerging technology sectors.

Set to begin next year, the CMMC program will require all DoD contractors to obtain an independent certification stating the contractor has sufficiently implemented its required cybersecurity controls. Addressing the contracting community’s concerns, Secretary Lord said the DoD understands the cost burdens associated with the CMMC program, especially for smaller contractors. But while she pledged a “lot of support,” the Secretary said she is “not envisioning waivers” to the CMMC program’s requirements. “[W]e know that this can be a burden to small companies particularly, and small companies is where the preponderance of our innovation comes from,” she said. “There are a lot of creative ideas that actually the primes have come up with in terms of how to tackle that, and we are working very hard over the next two to three months on how to incorporate that so that the small companies can be compliant without incurring a lot of cost.”

The DoD has also taken aim at so-called “adversarial capital” and, just last month, hosted the first in a series of events designed to pair small companies in key technology areas with “trusted capital” from sources whose interests are aligned with those of the United States. The inaugural event, Drone Venture Day in Bryan, Texas, brought together 39 UAS manufacturers and 12 trusted capital providers to “explore mutually beneficial [business] partnerships…focused on national security concerns.” Secretary Lord says she hopes “to build an ecosystem where trusted capital providers and domestic companies can limit adversarial foreign access to technology and strengthen domestic manufacturing in the defense industrial base.”

 

Strategies for Combating Unmanned Aerial Systems

Continuing on the topic of drones, the threat posed by adversaries’ UAS capabilities has prompted the DoD to prioritize the development of counter-UAS systems and strategies. While admitting that small, pilotless vehicles are “difficult to detect with typical sensor packages,” Secretary Lord said the Warfighter Senior Integration Group meets routinely “to talk about how we qualify systems and neck-down to the critical few that have the sensor modalities and the actual either kinetic or electronic warfare-type systems, to neutralize incoming threats.” “My goal,” she said, “is to make sure we have three to five systems that are tailored to a series of different types of threats, and that we can get the economy of scale, of having a few best systems out there.”

 

Conclusion

While 2019 brought noticeable improvements to the defense acquisition system, Secretary Lord’s comments show more transformational change is just around the corner. And as the DoD continues to adapt to new and emerging threats, so too must the contracting community.