The Hon. Nickolas Guertin: The Impact of Research Presented at Naval Postgraduate School’s Acquisition Research Symposium

Nickolas Guertin, left, is briefed by Cmdr. Nathan Hardy about earthquake recovery efforts at a naval warfare center. (DVDS)

On May 11, 2023, the Honorable Nickolas Guertin, Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E), will kick off the second day of the 20th Annual Acquisition Research Symposium, hosted by Naval Postgraduate School’s (NPS) Acquisition Research Program (ARP) and the Naval Warfare Studies Institute (NWSI). As one of two keynote speakers at the event, Guertin will set the stage for presentations to follow throughout the day, providing insights from his long career in the Navy, the Department of Defense, Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute, and his current role at DOT&E.

In September 2022, Guertin was nominated to serve as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition (ASN RDA), and he testified last month at his second confirmation hearing for the role with the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Just this week, Guertin received the Wash100 Award for his leadership in mission systems development.

Guertin has presented multiple papers at the Acquisition Research Symposium over the years and even attended virtual happy hours during the Zoom-only versions of the Symposium held in 2021 and 2022. For 2023, we’re thrilled to welcome Guertin back to Monterey for an opportunity to speak and connect with other attendees in person.

Research presented at the Acquisition Research Symposium has an outsized ability to fuel innovation and to impact changes in defense acquisition programs, policies, and practices. Guertin himself has seen this impact play out with his own research. We asked him to share some thoughts on the value of presenting at this unique gathering of acquisition researchers, practitioners, leaders, and policymakers. His comments are below (edited slightly for clarity).

ARP: You’ve attended the Acquisition Research Symposium for many years. It looks like your first appearance was in 2010, with almost yearly appearances since then. What keeps you returning to the symposium?

  • Guertin:  The first time I attended was at the request of RADM Jim Green (founding chair of ARP) to be a panel discussant. I attended the full symposium that year and was inspired by the nature and depth of the research provided by the presenters/authors. I also made some new friends at NPS on that trip – friends I keep in touch with to this day.
  • I learned a great deal and wanted to contribute to a growing body of knowledge that could help improve acquisition outcomes. Each time I have attended this symposium, I come away enrichened and enlightened on how to improve the work we do.

Nick Guertin joins other attendees for virtual happy hour at the 18th Annual Acquisition Research Symposium in 2021.

Nick Guertin (bottom left) joins other attendees for virtual happy hour at the 18th Annual Acquisition Research Symposium in 2021.

ARP: You’ve presented research from a variety of roles, as a leader in the Department of Defense and a researcher at the Software Engineering Institute.  What have you gotten out of the experience of presenting and of hearing what others are working on? 

  • Guertin: That first year’s inspirational experience led me to put in an abstract that same fall on a topic. It was on a subject that I felt strongly about but had not afforded myself the opportunity to think deeply on. I wanted to have my opinion shaped by collaboration, exposure to other research and structured introspection. It was a cleansing and broadening experience that helped me to develop the technical and business models I was working on for the Navy under the Open Architecture effort.
  • I was hooked on the value of building on and learning more about ideas that needed exploration in a way that would help me with my work. I also went into it from the perspective of being humble about what I might learn to let the material be shaped by other information I would gather and the deep connection I was able to make with my co-authors.

ARP: Has any of the research you presented at the symposium led to changes to acquisition policy or practice?

  • Guertin: Definitely! Especially noteworthy was the research I did for the Acquisition Research Symposium on topics such as business models, intellectual property strategies, technical reference frameworks, systems engineering, the modeling of testing, and of course, open architectures. Here are a few specific examples of products impacted by this research:
    • Creating an action plan for the Naval Open Architecture Enterprise effort that was approved by the Service Acquisition Executive in 2010. This involved business modeling, organizational transformation, technical reference frameworks, etc.
    • Developing the DoD’s Program Manager’s Open Architecture Contract Guidebook (a part of the Better Buying Power initiative) in 2013. This document and the related guidance have been used for many billions of dollars in contract award value for the development and fielding of weapon systems. The section of this document that was directly impacted by research coming out of this symposium include breaking and avoiding vendor lock, new guidance for intellectual property strategies, targeted use of contract incentive clauses, and others.
    • My most recent paper on Using Value Engineering to Propel Cyber Physical Systems Acquisition in 2021 was especially noteworthy for bringing together a set of prior research into a concept for improving acquisition outcomes.
    • I also leveraged some work from the symposium in developing the DOT&E’s Strategy Update that was released in June of 2022.

ARP: Is there anything else you’d like to share about how the symposium, the Acquisition Research Program, or Naval Postgraduate School has been valuable to you?

  • Guertin: I have greatly appreciated the venue of this symposium as an invitation to think deeply and to commit ideas to writing. I have been especially blessed by a great set of co-authors that have helped to shape the research we did together. Each of them were trusted and critical sounding-boards for ideas that had potential and had the strength of character and commitment to excellence to be candidly honest about those ideas that would not hold up to scrutiny.
  • Presenting these ideas to a gathering of thoughtfully critical colleagues forces deeply critical thought and the humility to be open to the opinions of others. These two things together, a place to exercise innovation in a community of professional discord, have helped to shape me and will continue to do so throughout my career.

The 20th Annual Acquisition Research Symposium will be held May 10 and 11, 2023, as a free event open to the public. In addition to presenters who travel from across the country, numerous faculty and students from the Naval Postgraduate School attend as both presenters and attendees. This connection keeps NPS research and education integrated with the latest insights from the defense acquisition community.  Register to join us in Monterey, California, or tune in to watch select panels on Zoom—including Guertin’s keynote address.

Learn more about the hosts of the symposium: Acquisition Research Program and the Naval Warfare Studies Institute.


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