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The Acquisition Research Program publishes a weekly email newsletter, Need to Know, in which we highlight key developments in acquisition, policy, government innovation, and research—as well as the latest news about ARP events and research. We hope you enjoy the newsletter, and let us know if you are doing work we can highlight in future issues. 

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Newsletter 7.30.2021

July 30, 2021                                                                                  Issue 64

This week we saw the NDAA go through markup in the HASC subcommittees, sometimes with overlap between House and Senate versions (improving information warfare) and sometimes with stark contrasts (whether to decommission aging Navy cruisers). Summaries of those marks can be found on the HASC website.

Nominations are finally moving forward. No doubt you’ve seen that Frank Kendall has been sworn in as Air Force Secretary. And Carlos Del Toro’s nomination to lead the Navy has advanced to the Senate floor. This week, the IBM Center for the Business of Government released a study on Other Transaction Authorities, making the case that the key/challenge to getting maximum benefit out of OTAs is … people. They make some recommendations for training an agile acquisition operations corps and share other interesting findings.  In ARP research, we’re profiling a team of students researching whether gamified FAR training will affect learning and knowledge retention. Check out our short video conversation and preview of the game in its current iteration.


This Week’s Top Story

DOD Wants Emerging Tech But Acts like An ‘Innovation Tourist,’ Report Says
Mila Jasper, Nextgov

Ever since private industry overtook the Defense Department as the locus of technological advancement in the U.S., the Pentagon has increasingly articulated a desire to adopt the best of the commercial sector into the military. But a new report suggests the department hasn’t been able to establish an acquisition environment ripe for integration of cutting-edge tech—instead, it’s been dabbling in “innovation tourism.”

Despite the proliferation of hubs for innovation across DOD—like the Defense Innovation Unit and AFWERX—the agency lacks a coherent strategy to link up innovation with procurement, according to a Center for Security and Emerging Technology report released Monday. Instead, the Pentagon has acted like a tourist, spending here and there before moving onto the next hot spot. According to the report, the crux of the issue isn’t necessarily about how much money is being spent or even problems with acquisition and innovation offices themselves. It’s a problem of organizational structure.

“An organization as large as the DOD—which controls roughly 45 percent of the U.S. government’s discretionary budget—cannot rely on impromptu conversations, serendipity, and old-friend networks to diffuse knowledge across the acquisition ecosystem,” the report reads. “However, that is where things stand today.”

DOD’s so-called “valley of death” phenomenon, which officials and experts use to describe the period between when companies receive funding for development and when their product gets integrated into a program of record, is a well-documented one, with officials, outside experts and industry voices decrying the problem alike. In March, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks directed the establishment of a steering group focused on innovation that officials say is aimed at transforming DOD processes to become better adopters of tech.

While overhauling DOD’s acquisition environment is a significant undertaking, CSET found a key barrier to adoption of innovative technology is the arbitrary separation of innovation hubs from acquisition offices.

Read more.


ARP and NPS News

Student Research in Progress: Gamifying the FAR (video)
Watch Professor and USAF Major Dan Finkenstadt talk with student and USAF Captain Matt Marshall about research investigating how gamified FAR training compares to traditional PowerPoint-based instruction.

NPS Launches Center on Combating Hybrid Threats to Address Hybrid Warfare
Matthew Schehl, NPS

The university’s new Center on Combating Hybrid Threats (CCHT), officially formed in early 2021 to meet this growing threat, is part of an international effort to detect, deny, disrupt, degrade, defeat and ultimately deter the use of hybrid threats by our adversaries. Drawing on NPS’ immense intellectual capital, the CCHT serves as a locus for interdisciplinary research, education programs and outreach for partners near and far.


Acquisition and Innovation

McCain’s Legacy Initiative on Pentagon Waste Is at Risk
Anthony Capaccio, Bloomberg

DIU awards Anduril Industries contract for counter-drone AI technology
Andrew Eversden, C4ISRNET

US Cyber Command touts acquisition advancements
Mark Pomerleau, C4ISRNET

Hyten explains new acquisition directives to industry
Joe Gould, Defense News

Commentary: Using outcomes-based RFPs to modernize IT infrastructure faster
Zain Ahmed and Walter Maikish, Fedscoop

Professional Development Opportunity: Procurement Leadership is Needed for the New Era of Disruption Ahead
Robert Handfield, NC State University Supply Chain Resource Cooperative



Other Transactions Authorities: After 60 Years, Hitting Their Stride or Hitting The Wall?
Stan Soloway, Jason Knudson, and Vincent Wroble  |  IBM Center for the Business of Government


Defense and Federal Government

Commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center retires
Nathan Strout, C4ISRNET

‘Ghost Fleet’ Hulls Moving Toward Completely Unmanned Operations
Sam LaGrone, USNI News

Navy Needs To Prep For Unmanned Integration, Says SWO Boss
Justin Katz, Breaking Defense

Pentagon adding new China and tech chiefs
Joe Gould, Defense News

NDIA Launches Emerging Technologies Institute
Yasmin Tadjdeh, National Defense



Defense News Conference
September 8, 2021



New Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall takes office
Rachel Cohen, Air Force Times

Kendall confirmed as Air Force secretary after senators lift procedural holds
Joe Gould and Rachel Cohen, Air Force Times

SASC Advances Del Toro’s Secretary of the Navy Nomination to Senate Floor
Mallory Shelbourne, USNI News

House bill would allow Navy to retire cruisers early, adds funds to build second destroyer
Megan Eckstein, Defense News

Senate defense policy bill looks to bolster DoD information warfare
Mark Pomerleau, C4ISRNET

House panel concerned over DoD’s approach to the information environment
Mark Pomerleau, C4ISRNET


Acquisition Tips and Tools, with Larry Asch

We are Drowning in Information While Starving for Wisdom

There is an overwhelming amount of Acquisition Information, but where do you get an understanding and some Wisdom before you look at Pathways, Subways, Tables of Acquisition Innovation, Toolkits, etc. When I started in Contracting, we had a wealth of GS-12&13’s with great knowledge base, experience, understanding, and common sense who were willing to share wisdom and information.

My years of experience on various acquisitions and contracts (Five ACAT I programs) and working with some of the smartest Government folks have helped me gain wisdom. You don’t have to go through that to gain wisdom. Here are a few valuable tips:

  • You have access to thousands of the smartest people and organizations in acquisition at LinkedIn. Where else could you gain knowledge from great leaders like James (Hondo) Geurts (and a bonus Rock & Roll song everyday), Maj Gen Cameron Holt, and other top Acquisition Leaders? There are innovative ideas from organizations like Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), SOFWERX, AFWERX, Kessel Run, Army Futures Command, NavalX, GSA FEDSIM, and other Government organizations. Also, let’s not forget Industry, both Traditional and Non-Traditional organizations. Last, the practitioners who are sharing or seeking out information. I have found LinkedIn a great resource for finding and creating relationships—and most of all, getting valuable information to help gain wisdom.
  • Another go-to for place for wisdom is WIFCON. Where else could you start your workday with Contracting News, GAO Protest Decisions (these have great fundamental rules in them), and Rules and Tools and latest guidance. The other areas of interest in WIFCON are the Discussion Contract Forum, and Search engine of Discussion Archives. WIFCON provides a wealth of wisdom with folks like Vern Edwards and Ralph Nash.
  • Probably the best way for you to develop wisdom is build a network of likeminded people. These are the people that you worked with, people you meet through school, conferences, e.g., NCMA World Congress, and LinkedIn. For example, on LinkedIn, OFPP was looking for volunteers to support development of a Consumption-Based Guidebook. I joined this great team and have made at least six new friends for my wisdom network. 

So, before you go on a pathway or a subway ride with mounds of information, build your wisdom base. Leadership at all levels can also help by pushing down wisdom and the right information for folks to do their job.

Ask any good Acquisition and Contracting Professional and they will tell you: We are Drowning in Information While Starving for Wisdom.