The Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) held its 15th annual Acquisition Research Symposium (ARS) at the nearby Embassy Suites hotel, May 9-10. The two-day symposium brought together leading defense acquisition experts from across the nation to exchange ideas, and to benefit from NPS student-led acquisition research.
The symposium provides a forum for the presentation of scholarly acquisition research, creating dialogue between scholars, students and acquisition policy makers and practitioners. NPS students from all services and allied nations, senior acquisition professionals, industry representatives, and researchers from universities across the country were all present to enrich the discussion.
“The acquisition research program has had, and continues to have, a significant positive impact on defense acquisition,” said William Lucyshyn, a research professor at the University of Maryland and one of the few individuals who has attended every NPS-hosted Acquisition Research Symposium to date. “This is continually affirmed by the growing participation, particularly by senior DOD acquisition leaders and program officials.
“Over the years, there have been many studies that have examined lessons learned, identified best practices, modeled process changes, and recommended changes,” he continued. “These may not all have been implemented, but they have certainly been considered and have influenced programmatic decisions. Moreover, the program exposes NPS students to many new and novel concepts, which will impact them for the remainder of their careers.”
The Honorable Anne Rung, Director, Government Sector for Amazon Business and former U.S. Chief Acquisition Officer for the Office of Management and Budget, took the stage as the first keynote speaker of the event, offering insights into her transition from government to industry.
“Amazon’s number one leadership principle is customer obsession,” said Rung. “That means leaders in our company constantly strive to start with the customer and then work backwards.”
This principle has led to several of Amazon’s newest technologies, like the grab-and-go grocery store Amazon Go and virtual assistant Alexa. She discussed applying this same mindset of customer obsession to the government, and how to systematically capture customer voice and build it into every procurement innovation.
Using an anecdote about a colleague leaving his home to catch a flight, Rung showed how automation and personalization have become a normal part of everyday life with technology communicating across multiple platforms and programs.
“I think it’s clear that, in government, we are ready for a change and it’s not about getting rid of the humans,” stated Rung. “It’s about using technology to provide insights to those people who can, in turn, focus on the really strategic decisions. It’s about having a competitive marketplace with information at your fingertips. Whether you call it machine learning, big data or predictive analytics, it’s about pooling this all together to help you make smarter buying decisions.”
Multiple breakout sessions covered the rest of the first day with a diverse range of relevant topics, from exploring new approaches in ship design and construction, to ethics, auditability and compliance in the acquisition workforce.
In the evening, attendees gathered for a student research poster session, where acquisition students presented their research theses to attending acquisition professionals and leaders.
“The [poster session] helps further their research and gets ideas that students have taken and developed and puts them out there for greater conversation among some of the senior military and government employees in the acquisition environment,” said NPS Graduate School of Business and Public Policy student Army Capt. Patrick M. Gress. “A lot of the people I have talked to have a lot of experience in the subject matter that I’ve been researching for the last year and it’s interesting to see their viewpoints.”
Vice Adm. David H. Lewis, Director, Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA), served as the keynote speaker for the second day, discussing how the DCMA functions within the government. It is responsible for performing contract administration services for the DOD and other authorized federal agencies. Lewis spoke on the relationship between the DCMA and its civilian counterparts.
“One of the biggest complaints about our acquisitions community is that we don’t know the civilian process,” said Lewis. “What better way to learn the civilian process than getting your civilian certification? We think we have special stuff, and we do. But putting together an oil refinery in somewhere like Tajikistan where nobody speaks English, it’s 500 miles to the nearest hint of civilization, and it’s a $3 billion project, is a big deal.
“There are acquisition lessons in how you would do that,” he continued. “Logistic, contracting, engineering and program management lessons are all things I get from the civilian community. I believe we should require all of our acquisition community to know what those are as an introduction to the community. We can then allow the [Defense Acquisition University] to teach the more specialized subjects.”
Shifting focus to a mentality that is a driving factor in his job, Lewis noted that at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what is done or invented, if it is not on the battlefield with the warfighter.
“You can have all the great ideas you want, all the innovation you want, but if the weapon isn’t in the hand of the Soldier, the Sailor, the Marine, then it doesn’t count,” said Lewis. “If it does get in the hand of the Soldier, Sailor, or Marine, and it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t count, not to mention putting one of our service member’s life at risk; that should be an iron standard.”
Recalling to the discussion on customer obsession from the previous day, Lewis stated that the customer for him and all federal acquisition professionals is always the warfighter.
“The program manager may be the customer’s representative, but the customer is the maintainer, the operator, even the logistician all while working out of a tent in a dust storm trying to make a tank work,” Lewis said.
A special recognition was extended to three senior officers in attendance, all very familiar with NPS and its academic programs. Rear Adms. William J. Galinis and Jon A. Hill, as well as U.S Army Maj. Gen. Kirk F. Vollmecke, were each presented with the university’s Distinguished Alumnus Award for their career accomplishments following their time at NPS.