Can a New Directive Move the Defense Acquisition System into the 21st Century?

Originally posted September 11, 2020

The new Department of Defense Directive (DODD) 5000.01 was released on September 8, 2020. The basic structure and length remain largely unchanged from the 2018 version, but the core operating principles for the defense acquisition system (DAS) have been updated to align with the 2018 National Defense Strategy. It now reflects the need to “deliver performance at the speed of relevance” and develop “a more lethal force based on U.S. technological innovation and a culture of performance that yields a decisive and sustained U.S. military advantage.” The directive also adds more bullet points than its predecessor to demonstrate the approaches and techniques needed to achieve these goals.

We find several changes of note, as well as some core concepts that remain stable across the versions of this guiding document.  Among the changes, we are pleased to see that recommendations from the Section 809 Panel are reflected in new fundamentals and priorities for the defense acquisition system. Here are the highlights.

Changes in the DODD 5000.01 that align with the Section 809 Panel recommendations

Other additions not directly related to the Section 809 Panel, but noteworthy

  • Employ artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, and other related capabilities throughout execution of the acquisition process

    • “To ensure a culture of performance that yields a decisive and sustained U.S. military advantage, the acquisition system will leverage capabilities including artificial intelligence, machine learning, and deep learning to maximize efficiency and streamline the acquisition of goods and services.”

  • Conduct system of systems (SoS) analysis

  • Less emphasis on cost, more “focus on affordability” (see notes below)

  • Deploy interoperable systems (with other U.S. forces and coalition partner systems)

  • Plan for coalition partners in the early design and development phase of acquisition programs

  • Maintain data transparency

    • "Data should be transparently shared, to the greatest extent possible, in its native form and require minimal formatting and manipulation. All DoD data will be shared as widely as possible across the Military Services and OSD. Options to frustrate or prevent data transparency should not be entertained.”

  • Employ a collaborative process (DoD components should consult and coordinate with each other, but a dissenting view does not preemptively halt the acquisition process)

A note about cost: The earlier DODD 5000.01 emphasized controlling costs (including bullets for cost realism and cost sharing), while the 2020 version focuses on affordability. Here, managing portfolios of capabilities can help achieve this goal: “The DoD components must balance a program’s requirements and cost in light of the funding and priorities within and across portfolios.” Again, this aligns directly with the Section 809 Panel’s recommendations on portfolio management.

This shift may also recognize that too much focus on cost as an isolated variable can have negative effects on programs’ ability to adapt and deliver the right capabilities. At a recent National Defense University event, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work explained that the discipline mandated by the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009 had an unintended consequence on program management. While its focus on planning better for cost, schedule, and performance resulted in a huge drop in Nunn-McCurdy breaches, it also made program managers more risk averse and programs less effective. As Work argued, we can now have access to the right data about programs – not just cost – and these new insights can empower decision makers to better see and manage the big picture.   

Some priorities stay the same across versions of the DODD 5000.01

  • Develop a culture of innovation

  • Emphasize competition

  • Be responsive

  • Employ a disciplined approach

  • Emphasize safety

  • Maintain a professional workforce

  • The objective of the defense acquisition system is still to “acquire products and services that satisfy user needs… at a fair and reasonable price.”

New bullet points = New culture?

Coupled with the new versions of the DODI 5000.02 and the Adaptive Acquisition Framework that have rolled out over the past year, DoD is making smart improvements to how the defense acquisition system upholds the values and mission of the DoD. The emphasize on data and data-based technologies such as artificial intelligence move acquisition into the 21st century.  Getting acquisition professionals speaking the same language, whether or not these terms feel trendy, will help move the culture of acquisition in the right direction. And as we all know, culture remains one of the hardest nuts to crack.


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