Premade Decisions: Why Bother?

I have written about the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship kerfuffle before.  The recent “non-decision” by outgoing SECDEF Hagel concerning the fate of the LCS fleet has prompted me to write again on the subject.  For those you you who haven’t followed this “crisis of our own making,” my previous musing, Rethinking LCS, provides some background which I will not repeat here. But I know it’s a hassle to click on the link, so here’s the Cliff Notes version:

  • LCS concept was for affordable, brown water vessel with modular capabilities to fulfill the presence mission in key locations around the globe.
  • LCS modular concept meant that not all missions could be done at once, keeping costs lower and enhancing adaptability for new missions.
  • LCS was not designed as a front-line warship, bristling with armament, but was configured to protect itself in most likely operating areas.
  • Navy bought two designs, hoping to down-select, but alas, since the only decisions that are generally (or admirably, if you prefer in this case) made in the Pentagon are pre-decided, the decision was made to not decide and buy both forever.
  • Elements in DoD leadership decided LCS didn’t have enough firepower and was vulnerable and directed the Navy to explore alternatives.
  • Navy commissioned a big study to scratch the OSD itch.
  • All breathlessly awaited the Uber-SECRET study results, knowing the Unter-SECRET answer: Navy can’t afford anything else…….(shhhhhhhh don’t tell anyone!!!!!!)

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I found these slides in an article by the US Naval Institute and they are attributed to the US Navy, however I couldn’t find them on the Navy website.

So that brings us to the big pre-made decision by SECDEF, after consulting, conferring and otherwise hobnobbing with the Pentagon cognoscenti.  (Who are the cognoscenti you ask?  Read SECDEF’s statement and find out.)   And the decision was:

Drum Roll Please

……stay with two LCS designs, bump them up a bit (maybe $53 or $61 Mil or so) and move on.  I think the only one surprised by the answer may have been SECDEF himself!  Otherwise, why bother?  I shudder to think about the amount of money and time spent on this study which had only one answer.  I haven’t seen the actual study, but from what I’ve read about it, no stone was left unturned (apparently 192 stones to be exact).  Option after option considered, analyzed, pondered, etc……..by those who already knew there was only one answer……we can’t afford anything else, nor can we afford the time required to start the acquisition process all over again.  The answer was pre-decided. My guess is most of the changes announced would have been made anyway.

These pre-decided decisions are common in the Pentagon, but all too often staffs are forced to do the kabuki dancekabukidance to give an air of legitimacy to them.  Those in disagreement get to say their peace and then dismissed as “having an input”, even though no one was really listening. I recall this vividly while working on budget end-game around the 2006 timeframe.  The Service programmers (three star resource folks) would be herded down to OSD about an hour before SECDEF was to receive a decision briefing on an issue, shown the slides prepared for him and then dismissed.  I barely had enough time to run back to the Vice Chief to brief him on what I had seen, let alone provide him with any analysis of what OSD had pre-decided.  Of course, if the Vice Chief were to raise an objection during the SECDEF briefing, the OSD Poobahs would announce,” Your folks have seen this and nothing was said.”

The point of this little tirade is that we waste money on these types of exercises all the time.  I think about all the good we could have done for our wounded warriors with the money we wasted on this study.  I think about all the time consumed by some very smart people who could have been working on something really important…how to deal with sequestration, how to keep the technological edge, how to fix our broken nuclear infrastructure…and any number of other problems.

Why does the Pentagon continue to do this?  I suggest it’s because they have an endless supply of people and money.  No one pays for people, they just have them.  No one has to justify the cost of doing such a study because cost is not an issue.  If I had done that in my civilian P&L life, I would have been shown the door.  I had to spend my money and time on things that mattered and contributed to the bottom line. Since there’s no bottom line at DoD, everything tends to become equally important.  Once on the Joint Staff I remember a staff briefing one day when the two topics discussed were the reduction of the nuclear arsenal by 50% and the Joint Staff savings bond campaign.  We spent the same amount of time on each…in the end it was decided we should brief the Deputy Director daily on the savings bond campaign and as needed for the nuclear issue.

I think we need a study on studies.

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One for the Price of Three!

Only in the DoD acquisition world would this sound like a good deal!  But before we cast too many arrows at the acquisition community, I must admit the idea is mine.  I developed this idea over the course of years of working in the Bizarro World of DoD ship financing.   You remember Bizarro? Bizarro It’s the world where everything is backwards….the name of the bizarro world planet is Htrae (so clever!) and the world is square.  As I recall, it was featured occasionally in Superman comics in the 1960’s. One of the mottos in Bizarro World was ” Us do opposite of all earthly things.”  Bizarro bonds were a hot item on Htrae because they were “guaranteed to lose money.”  So I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to make the analogy here.

As I learned during my time as Chief Resources and Requirements Officer for the Navy, the normal things you learned about economics don’t necessarily hold true when it comes to buying ships.  My initial experience was during my first year on the job.  We were working on balancing the budget and were about $400 Million off.  The staff proposed that we slide the purchase of a ship we were buying for the Army called the LMSR (contrary to popular belief, the Army moves primarily by sea, not air).  The price tag was about $400 Million and the staff had determined that we could stand to slide it a year.  “Sounds good to me!” I answered, happy at the prospect of putting a bow on the $130 Billion Navy budget and delivering it to OSD just in time for Thanksgiving.  By the way, that’s how you make sure that you don’t get rejected right away…..Submit something just prior to a big holiday so no one is around to grade your work.  This rule works in a variety of scenarios:

  • DoD generally drops significant RFPs just before holidays to force contractors to work feverishly at the expense of their families to get the proposal complete by some arbitrary deadline (which generally gets extended anyway).
  • The Congress always passes bills at the eleventh hour before big holidays, in hopes that the particulars will escape the media.  What’s more interesting? The details of the CR passed the day before Thanksgiving or the press conference where the President pardons the turkey?  Or maybe the 3 minute spot on the evening news which shows the neighbor’s Christmas lights display of 100,000 watts, synchronized to “All About That Bass.” I vote for the turkey pardon and the light show!!!!!(and sadly, so do most)
  • Controversial changes to Federal Register seem to always drop the day before a holiday in hopes that no one will notice.
  • My favorite, RFP’s released with 5 days to respond…(a favorite way to make sure the desired contractor wins)

Anyway, I’m sure you have your own sea story that would make mine look minor.  But back to the LMSR caper……

USNS Bob HopeA few days after the decision was made, the staff came back and noted that since we slid the ship a year, it’s going to cost more…..I don’t remember how much, but it was around $100 Million or so.  “Really?” I commented.  ‘Oh, yes,” came the reply, ” money will cost more the next year, we have shipyard loading issues that we will have to pay for, the cost of steel is going up, blah, blah blah.”  So I began to understand that the economics of shipbuilding were different.  I formulated The Shipbuilding Entropy Rule: “Nothing ever costs less.  NO matter what you do, it will always cost more.”  You buy less, they cost more.  You cancel the buy, you still have to pay the overhead.  You remove capability, it costs more to redo drawings.  Its all very counter-intuitive.  This became very clear to me during the following year’s budget build when the staff came back and said “We made a mistake.  We have to move the LMSR back to the original purchase year.”  “Fine,” I replied, “No harm, no foul.”  Sensing it wasn’t “Fine“, based on the furtive glances between the staffers (an admiral sees a lot of those looks in the Pentagon) I asked “What’s wrong?”  Turns out, if we moved the ship back into the original purchase year, it added another $100 Million to the cost!  Whadakknow?  We essentially did nothing and paid $200 Million not to do it!  That, my friends, is Bizarro accounting!

Anyway I could go on and on about this, but I want to get to the reason I chose the title of this article, One for the Price of Three.

The DDG-1000 (AKA CG(X), Arsenal Ship, Zumwalt Destroyer, DD21, DD(X), etc) was originally intended to have a buy of around 32 ships or so.  USS ZumwaltThey became so expensive and the requirements bounced around so much, we began advertising it as a fire support ship vital to the survival of the Marines during amphibious assaults.  As such, we only needed about 10-12, just enough to support the number of amphibious ready groups (ARGS) we had at the time.  The Marines were happy about that, even though they preferred to have 2 per ARG.  I even went over to the Hill with my Marine counterpart extolling the virtues of the DDG-21 as the perfect fire support ship for the Marines.  But once the Marines realized that the cost of the ship was so high that it would probably limit the amount of other stuff they could buy, they dropped it like a hot potato…..they would much rather have the 360 V-22’s than 24 DD(X)’s.  So in the space of about a month we changed our tune from”vital” to “not so vital.”  Now that they are $3 Billion a copy, we are only building 3 of them and I’m not sure there’s a real requirement out there.  As my Grandmother said when she got her first taste of champagne in one of those dinky champagne flutes at my son’s baptism, “That’s not enough to wet my whistle.”  So it is with DDG-1000 IMHO.  The real requirement as far as I can tell is to have something for Bath Iron Works to build ( they will build all three) so they can stay in business in order to address industrial base concerns.  Hence the title of the article.

I propose instead of spending $9 Billion for 3 ships we don’t need, why not pay the shipyard to build it, take it apart and then build it again?  It keeps them busy. The Navy doesn’t have to shoulder the Operations and Maintenance costs necessary to support a ship class of 3 ships, and we don’t have rustle up the personnel and training facilities which must be specially developed on this one-of-a-kind weapons systems.  Heck, we will save money by doing that!  Of course, this idea only works on Bizarro World.

That, by the way, is how Bizarro JosBanks works too.  You pick out one suit and pay for three!

What a world, what a world!

 

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Reforming Acquisition Reform

There has been a lot of static on the net lately concerning acquisition reform.  Two notable recent arrivals on the scene have been all the buzz around the Beltway:  First, the release of Better Buying Power (BBP) 3.0, Under Secretary of Defense (AT&L) Frank Kendall’s reincarnation of BBP 1.0 (originally issued by Ash Carter when AT&L, and later BBP 2.0 by Mr.Kendall). DoD CartSecond was the publishing of a report by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Chaired by Senator Levin, with Senator McCain as the Ranking Member.  The report, entitled “Defense Acquisition Reform: Where Do We Go From Here?, is a collection of essays by 30 experts in the Defense acquisition world about how to improve or reform defense acquisition of things (and to a small degree, services).

Better Buying Power 3.0

One of the things I like most about the concept of the Better Buying Series is the iterative process in improving its focus.  After letting BBP 1.0 run for a while, corrections were needed as the result of some unintended consequences (like an irrational focus on lowest price, technically acceptable contracts) and need for clarification of some of the elements.  BBP 2.0 did just that, directing that more care must be given in defining what is “technically acceptable” for example.  Now, BBP 3.0 has come out to further tweak the elements of BBP.  A couple of previous elements were eliminated because they were considered complete:

  • Institute a system to measure the cost performance of programs and institutions and to assess the effectiveness of acquisition policies
  • Assign senior managers for acquisition of services

There were some carry overs as well, mostly with refined language.  I won’t list them all here, but the ones that I think represent the most significant change are:

  • A recognition that capability must be considered in evaluating cost by changing the focus from “Control Costs Throughout the Product Lifecycle” to “Achieve Dominant Capabilities while Controlling Lifecycle Costs”
  • Expanding focus on incentivizing productivity and innovation by breaking out into separate areas with following additions:
    • Increase prototyping and experimentation
    • Emphasize tech insertion and refresh in program planning
    • Use of modular, open architecture systems
    • Provide tech requirements to industry early
  • Increasing ability of acquisition leaders to understand and mitigate technical risk.
  • Increased support for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education

Here’s a link to the BBP 3.0 overview.  All in all I think it represents a good step forward in the BBP series and will certainly help in trying to understand all the things going on in the world of acquisition reform……..BUT,

Many of the themes that emerged in the second recent arrival, the Senate study (Complete study can be found here) were not really addressed in the BBP 3.0 document.  To be fair, the report had yet to be released prior to putting BBP 3.0 on the street, but I would have hoped for more overlap.

The Senate report pulled out four overarching themes from the musings of the 30 experts contributing to the report:

  • A cultural change is needed in the acquisition workforce, including more effective incentives
  • Training and recruiting of the acquisition workforce must be improved
  • Realistic requirements definition are critical
  • Accountability and leadership throughout product life-cycle needs improvement

The report also makes two observations which I will quote here:

“First, among all those factors that have been identified as contributing to dysfunction in the defense acquisition system, cultural change is among both the most important and the least amenable to legislation and policy changes. It is, rather, a function of leadership throughout the chain-of-command and an incentive structure that threads through both the government contracting and acquisition workforce and industry that assigns a premium to cost-control and the timely delivery of needed capability.

Second, continued “sequestration” of the DOD’s budgets will undermine any savings that could be achieved through even the most successful acquisition reform.”

Well, to me that says, 1.  It’s more of a DoD problem than a legislative problem and 2. sequestration will nullify ( or at least severely impact) all acquisition reform efforts.   The last thing we need is even more regulation in the acquisition process.  I would offer that in my opinion sequestration is not necessarily the enemy here.  I still think we have too much waste in DoD, too many pork barrel projects, too many pet projects and too many cooks in the kitchen.  What is the enemy is the uncertainty in the budget process over the last several years….Continuing Resolutions, multiple budgets, Overseas Contingency Funds abuse and a foolish focus on equity in Service budgets have all undermined our ability to reform how we buy things.  In the end, it is a indeed a legislative problem….The failure to pass budgets on time, regardless of  the funding levels.  Life would be so much easier and efficient in DoD acquisition with regular and predictable budgets, passed in a timely fashion and accurately executed.

One final observation:  I would like to see the Senate produce a similar document on acquisition reform, but using 30 PRACTITIONERS of acquisition at the grass roots level: Project Managers, PEOs, and Contracting Officers.  A view from the top is always useful, but without a view from the bottom we will never really fix what is wrong with acquisition culture. They are the ones that make up the culture, not the poobahs at the top.  A little more focus on them would be helpful…I’m not sure that after a contacting officer reads BBP 3.0 they will do anything different.

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Sewing Machines and DoD Acquisition

I saw an interesting article this morning on the NDIA Blog site which said Secretary Frank Kendall, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics  USD(AT&L), was unhappy that DoD did not meet the goal for having more competition for defense-related contracts.  Singer328 height= I’m not surprised at that because given the irrational focus of DoD on vendor profits, they have managed to make bidding on defense contracts so unattractive that fewer and fewer companies are making the effort to bid.  In my view, it’s not just one reason:

  • There are less contractors out there to bid
  • DoD rules and regulations limit profitability on contracts (only the big guys can survive at the margins expeced by DoD)
  • FAR requirements are so onerous (and increasing) that it’s too expensive to bid on many contracts
  • FAR requirement are so onerous that it’s too risky to bid on many contracts
  • The specter of having DCAA establish a parasitic site in your corporate HQ to monitor your finances is too distasteful
  • Uncertainty of funding streams, including the ability of DoD to cancel any contract for any (or no) reason
  • Too many ID/IQ contracts in order to avoid protests.  They are just beauty contests.

I think I will stop at those seven for now, but there are more.  What’s fascinating to me is that these reasons are ignored as DoD attempts to develop a fix for limited competition.  The DoD solution is to increase regulation, increase reporting frequency (so the bad news comes more quickly I suppose), and continue to monkey around with contractor profits, even on fixed-price contracts.  The best way, is to reduce the number of requirements, like those cited above, and let natural instincts and market forces drive competition.

 In order to have more bidders, it must become more attractive to bid!

Hello?  Did i just say that?  Why isn’t the leadership focused on how to make bidding and working on government contracts more attractive?  Can it be that simple?  I think the answer is yes.

So what does the sewing machine have to do will all of this?  This past weekend, the lovely Mrs. Crenshaw volunteered to do a little sewing to get one of our granddaughter’s uniforms ready for school.  In order to do this, she needed her sewing machine liberated from the darkest recesses of the attic.  I felt like I was in the basement of the Smithsonian as I rummaged throughout the boxes of brass plaques accumulated over the 32 years of my naval career (I’m not allowed to display them).  I found a medal I received from the Russians, a box of challenge coins, some old text books from the Naval Academy (why I still have a book on differential equations is beyond me), and various other flotsam and jetsam accumulated over 40+ year of marriage. I finally found the sewing machine, Singer Syle-o-Matic Model 328 (now listed on E Bay as “vintage”).  Setting it up after many years of disuse was challenging.  It’s a mystery to me why sewing machines work anyway, much like the DoD acquisition process.  I started fiddling around with the upper thread tension, adjusting the needle alignment, resetting the timing, changing the motor belt, tweaking the bobbin tension, etc.  Before you know it, I had adjusted just about everything on that machine and I had no idea of  what the original settings (which worked fine the last time we used it) were.  I should have left it alone, done some basic maintenance (a drop of oil perhaps) and let it do its thing.  But NOOOOOOOoo!  I had to fiddle around with every possible adjustable part and got it so far out of whack that the only option was to go back to basics and take it to a professional.  Now it works just fine.  I think the same is true in the world of DoD acquisition  We have monkeyed around with so many parts that we have lost sight of the original settings—-namely good, old-fashioned competition, unhindered by excessive regulation or government meddling in corporate finances. Why not turn over the management of corporate finances to the professionals (that would be corporate leadership) and let them do what they do best, COMPETE!

DoD ACquisiton

So my suggestion on how to increase comptetion is simple: make it more attractive to bid.  One does this by eliminating the barriers to bidding, not by adding more..  Take a look at my seven reasons above.  If we focused on fixing those, I guarantee you there would be more competition.  In the end, the government would get better value for the dollars it spends, not just cheap, mediocre work for which the government is becoming increasingly famous (or infamous, I suppose).

 

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Motivate me!

I just finished plowing through the 2014 Performance of the Defense Acquisition report published by Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (AT&L).  ATL Report width= I was prompted to look at it when I saw this article in the Washington Post on what motivated contractors, according to the report.  Pardon my suspicion at a report bragging about how well the current crowd at AT&L is doing, but I’m suspicious.  First….there’s a lot of statistics included and my experience is that statisticians can twist the numbers to say anything.  As evidence, I note there wasn’t much bad about the JSF (perhaps the worst performing program of all time) in the report.  Oh sure, it appears, but if one were to just glance at the charts and graphs where JSF is mentioned, you get the impression that it’s just a middle-of-the pack program…..lots of programs perform worse, a few perform better.  EXCUSE ME?  This baby is already $160 Billion behind schedule and 10 years late in delivery (and still counting by the way, especially given the disastrous fire at Eglin Air Force Base last week). How DoD can publish a report on performance of the Acquisition system without including a chapter on why the JSF program is so gooned up is beyond me.  It’s like the YouTube video when the gorilla walks through the basketball game.  Am I the only one who noticed?

Another item I thought was interesting was the conclusion that although Firm Fixed Price (FFP) contracts do perform better and generally exhibit less cost growth, the report concludes it’s because most of those contracts are lower risk anyway.  Oh by the way, the evil part of FFP contracts is that the vendors who do a good job of managing cost and performance of their programs are probably making more profit and therefore gouging the Government.  I can hear the conversation in the Pentagon now, “That darn contractor actually delivered on-cost and on-time, so we must have given him too much money!”  That substantiates my belief that the Pentagon has the uncanny ability to take from good performing programs to pay for the sins of poor performing programs, thereby dooming all programs to some level of common mediocrity.

One other point I thought was interesting….there’s no mention of contracts that were awarded on a lowest price, technically acceptable (LPTA) basis.  Some in industry contend that DoD is so bent on doing things on the cheap, that quality has suffered when contracts are awarded on an LPTA basis. I don’t know if that is just sour grapes from the expensive losers or truth.  No one seems to care…….about the quality any way.

Back to the title…..What were the conclusions?

  • Not all incentives work. In order to work they have to be used, be “significant, stable and predictable,” and they must be tied to DoD objectives.
  • Cost-Plus vs Fixed Price contract debate is a “red herring.” It’s incentive-based contracts that matter.
  • Incentive Fee contracts work best.  The big plus here is that using them allows the Government to limit contractor profits. (My personal opinion is that DoD should spend less time wringing their hands over profits and more time on getting the requirements right to begin with.)
  • FFP contracting requires knowledge of costs.  (Once again, this one refers to limiting contractor profits)
  • Programs which realize better profits in production incentivize vendors to move quickly through the development phase (Of course, this implies that the Government does not change requirements in the development phase….Good luck with that!) and saves money in the end.

So there you have it.  My little list of what incentivizes contractor to perform better goes like this:

  • Well written Requests for Proposals which are clear on requirements.
  • No requirements creep during the process.
  • Regular and reliable funding streams…none of this Continuing Resolution, furlough, of OCO stuff (Oh, how I’m tempted to use a different word here).
  • Full and Open competitions
  • Procurement professionals who spend a lot of time on improving government processes and less on monkeying around with industry processes.
  • A Government that honors multi-year procurement deals.  No canceling in mid-stream.

To be fair, I think that there have been improvements in the acquisition process and those in the driver’s seat deserve a pat on the back.  But in the end,  the fundamental problem is that the requirements process never gets it right and we spend lots of time and money recovering.  Congress doesn’t help things with its inability to pass a budget either.

 

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Acquisition: Practitioners vs. Pontificators

DoD Acquisition Process

The DoD Process Simplified

I ran across an article from the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) the other day by Sandra Erwin on Congressional frustration on how the Pentagon buys things.  Not being satisfied with the progress being made by the DoD Acquisition guru’s, Congress has decided that more legislation is needed to fix things (Really? Congress is going to fix something?).  The Congress has asked nine of the industry associations around the Beltway to provide comments on how to make it better, with inputs due in July.  I belong to several of those and I’m glad the Congress is asking for industry input, although I hope they remember that asking the people who make money as a result of inefficiencies is just one side of the argument. I think significant progress has been made since then Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Acquisition (USD(AT&L)) Ash Carter launched his “Better Buying Power Initiative” in September of 2010. In his memo to acquisition professionals he provided a roadmap to improving acquisition within DoD.  He focused on five areas of interest:

  1. Target Affordability and Control Cost Growth
  2. Incentivize Productivity and Innovation in Industry
  3. Promote Real Competition
  4. Improve Tradecraft in Services Acquisition
  5. Reduce Non-Productive Processes and Bureaucracy

Details of this can be found at this link if you are interested.  All these are worthy goals, and they have made a difference.  A recent GAO report found that some progress was being made, but that cost and schedule growth remain significant; 39 percent of fiscal 2012 programs have had unit cost growth of 25 percent or more. The amount of money in the DoD acquisition pipeline is staggering;  86 major defense acquisition programs  estimated to cost a total of $1.6 trillion according to GAO. If you have any questions about a specific program click here.

Besides the modest, if not marginal, improvements in acquisitions, some not so nice things happened as well.  As is often the case in large bureaucracies, what the big guys at the top are saying and what the little guys in the field are hearing frequently don’t jive.  That was the case with the Better Buying Power Initiative.

Dr. Carter said “Increase the use of Fixed Price Incentive Fee contract type where appropriate…”, but the dudes in the field heard “More Fixed Price contracts, less Cost Plus Fixed Fee and Time and Materials contracts.”  Contracting officers were suddenly burdened with having to provide extensive justification for any non-Fixed Price contract.  Since they were busy enough, the Contracting Officers would rather just go with the flow and issue fixed price contracts, even though the work was not appropriate for them.  The words “where appropriate” were overlooked.  In the end, it wound up costing more money.  Here’s why.  When a contractor agrees to a fixed price contract, the contractor is assuming all of the risk.  Suppose the job was improperly scoped by the Government, or suppose a software glitch pops up that takes time (and money) to fix.  All those unexpected expenses are absorbed by the contractor.  Consequently, Fixed Price contracts tend to be more expensive in order to cover the risk.  This was certainly the case in my former life when a long-time client came to me and said, “The Boss says we have to do a Fixed Price contract” this year and it can only be for one year at a time.  This was not what the customer wanted, but the customer was at the mercy of the acquisition folks.  The work we were doing at the time was rather unpredictable and my team was never quite sure from day-to-day what they may be tasked with next.  In order to be responsive, it was a Time and Materials (T&M) contract, which allowed us to flex to the client’s requirements.  But with a fixed price contract, I was not able to flex without a contract modification (and that takes time and money).  I told the client that if we were going to do a fixed price contract, I would have to increase the price and that I would not be as flexible in doing new work.  That fell on deaf ears because it was going to be such a hassle to justify anything other than a fixed price contract.

Here’s another example.  Dr. Carter says “Promote Real Competition”, but the  folks in the field heard, “Use Lowest Price, Technically Acceptable (LPTA)” evaluation criteria for source selection.”  This caused all kinds of price wars in the community and the Government was feeling smug about how much money they were saving, but…………Turns out many Requests for Proposals were poorly written with vague and overly broad technical requirements, so that just about any old company with the resources to put together a proposal could win the contract.  And they bid ridiculously low rates, so in the end they were unable to deliver and customers began to fall back to other contact vehicles to get the work done, or just didn’t do the work.  I think it’s a little too early to actually get to the real statistics about how many customers are really satisfied with the results of LPTA winning vendors but the Congress should find out before attempting to come up with more legislation.

The current USD(AT&L), Frank Kendall,  issued an update to the original Better Buying Power, known around town as Better Buying Power 2.0.  In it Mr. Kendall says:

  1. Achieve Affordable Programs
  2. Control Costs Throughout the Product Lifecycle
  3. Incentivize Productivity & Innovation in Industry and Government
  4. Eliminate Unproductive Processes and Bureaucracy
  5. Promote Effective Competition
  6. Improve Tradecraft in Acquisition of Services
  7. Improve the Professionalism of the Total Acquisition Workforce

The result has been a much greater focus on costs of acquiring the systems and a recognition that perhaps the LPTA pendulum was swinging just a little too far over.  As in the original BBP, those in the field had some different interpretations about expectations from the top.  One of the initiatives within the Incentivize Productivity goals was to “Align profitability more tightly with Department goals.”  This translated into government auditors deciding they need to closely scrutinize contractors books to ensure vendor were not making “excessive profits,” even on fixed price work.  I just don’t think that’s in the government’s lane. If they are so concerned about profit margins, then why not issue Cost Plus Fixed Fee contracts where the Government essentially controls corporate profits?   Thus,  despite all their good, it seems to me a few fundamental flaws in the acquisition system have not been addressed in BBP or BBP 2.0:

  • There is still a lack of coordination and cooperation between those who generate requirements, those who pay to satisfy the requirements and those who buy the stuff with the money they are given.
  • There is still a disconnect between contracting officers and the customers for whom they buy products and services.
  • There is still a disconnect between what the leadership in the Pentagon says and what the people in the field do.
  • The uncertainties of funding from year to year drive programs to their most expensive procurement options.
  • Certain key programs get a “pass” from all the rhetoric about performance, affordability and life-cycle costs, overshadowing all of the progress made to reform acquisition. The top 10 acquisition programs still account for 65% of all the acquisitions according to the GAO.  The Joint Strike Fighter is 25% of all DoD acquisition alone!

So in the end, I doubt very much if legislation will fix the problem.  Four feet of  stacked up Federal Acquisition Regulations and Defense Federal Acquisition Regulations are not going to be much affected by another thousand pages or so of legislation.  Check out the recent testimony of Dr. Paul Francis, the Managing Director of Acquisitions and Sourcing Management at GAO.  He has some very practical steps on how to improve the process. In addition to those steps, I would like to see DoD actually evaluate each program on its own merit, not on investment levels or political support or not simply press on with a poor program because they managed (mismanaged is probably the better word here) to get into a position where there is no alternative.  It would also be nice if the people who are actually charged with executing the acquisition system at lower levels could have a say in how to make things better.  There’s too much Top Down and not enough Bottom Up built into the process in my humble opinion.  What if we asked the practitioners to come up with a series of reforms instead of the pontificators?

 

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