Newsletter Welcome

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. 

To subscribe, please send us an email

Looking for an old newsletter? Browse previous issues

Newsletter 10.23.2020

October 23, 2020                                                                                                        Issue 29

This week is all about China and our international allies and partners, with some news on Space Force and acquisition to round things out. Our top story reports on a new partnership between the U.S. and UK navies, with 10 U.S. F-35Bs on board the HMS Queen Elizabeth and the establishment of the first Naval X Tech Bridge in London. In other naval partnerings, Australia is joining the Malabar exercise with India, Japan, and the U.S. Behind these and other recent military collaborations is the specter of China, which gets some smart treatment from a pair of recent research papers from CNAS as well as Emily de la Bruyère, a symposium researcher.  And it looks like the NDAA will start moving forward next week, with a scheduled meeting of the “Big Four.” 

This Week’s Top Story

U.S., U.K. Navies Launch New Initiatives for Integrated Warfighting
Jon Harper, National Defense Magazine

Navy leaders from the United States and United Kingdom are set to sign a new agreement aimed at enhancing their ability to fight together, while also creating a new joint technology innovation hub, officials announced Oct. 20.

The new agreement will outline a cooperative vision for “interchangeablity,” U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday said during remarks at the Atlantic Future Forum, which is being held onboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier docked in Portsmouth, England. The event includes remote participation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“After months of hard work on both sides of the Atlantic, I am proud to announce that the First Sea Lord [Adm. Tony Radakin] and I will sign a future integrated warfighting statement of intent that will set a cooperative vision for interchangeability,” Gilday said. “We will synchronize pioneering capabilities, strengthen operating concepts and focus our collective efforts to deliver combined sea power together.”

The bilateral vision includes joint forces operating in multiple warfighting domains while using emerging technologies, he noted.

“By organizing our cooperation on carrier strike, underwater superiority, navy-marine integration and doubling down on future warfighting [capabilities] like unmanned and artificial intelligence, we will remain on the leading edge of great power competition,” he said.

Read more.

 

ARP and NPS News

China's True Tech Ambitions
Jordan Schneider, ChinaTalk

This interview with Emily de la Bruyère discusses research from her symposium paper, co-authored with Nate Picarsic, “Beijing’s Innovation Strategy: Threat-Informed Acquisition for an Era of Great Power Competition.”

From Schneider’s introduction: “Her paper on China’s approach to scientific research is the best piece of China policy analysis I’ve read in 2020, deeply sourced in policy documents, and coming to powerful conclusions about the nature of the CCP’s tech ambitions. Our discussion touches on why the CCP prioritizes applied over basic scientific research, the most important tech standards fight you’ve never heard of, the sad state of the US intelligence community’s open-source research, and why rare earths have led to these cows in Inner Mongolia having to graze on a moonscape.”

 

Acquisition and Innovation

New DCMA Defective Pricing Pilot Team Will Possess Audit Resolution Authority
J. Alex Ward and Kathy Weinberg, JDSupra

Pentagon inks $197 million in contracts for microelectronics
Andrew Eversden, C4ISRNET

DoD’s CMMC remains stuck in drama, confusion and concern
Jason Miller, Federal News Network

Pentagon Will Move Primary Biometrics Systems to Amazon Cloud
Aaron Boyd, Nextgov

Pentagon loses two bid protests that challenged $7 billion moving contract
Jared Serbu, Federal News Network

Prototyping is booming at DOD. But will the programs ever lead to a big payday?
Carten Cordell, Washington Business Journal

Pentagon’s AI hub awards multiple $100M blanket purchasing agreements
Andrew Eversden, C4ISRNET

GSA considering more CMMC-like cyber requirements in its governmentwide contracts
Billy Mitchell, Fedscoop

What We Don’t Know About Military Innovation
Jamie Morin and Bill LaPlante, Defense One

 

Events

Air Force Pilot Retention: New Recommendations for An Enduring Crisis
Center for Strategic & International Studies
Oct. 28, 2020  |  3:00 pm - 4:00 pm ET

Maritime Security Dialogue - The Movement Toward Greater Integration in Naval Warfare
Center for Strategic & International Studies
Oct. 29, 2020  |  10:00 am - 11:00 am ET

Government Contracting in a Changed World: Acquisition & Procurement
Center for Government Contracting at George Mason University
Nov. 10, 2020

 

Research

Military Forces in FY 2021: The Budget and Strategy Overview: Four Challenges and a Wild Card
Mark Cancian, Center for Strategic & International Studies

Charting a Transatlantic Course to Address China
Julianne Smith, Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Carisa Nietsche and Ellison Laskowski  |  Center for a New American Security

Common Code: An Alliance Framework for Democratic Technology Policy
Martijn Rasser, Rebecca Arcesati, Shin Oya, Ainikki Riikonen and Monika Bochert  |  Center for a New American Security

Building a Trusted ICT Supply Chain
Cyberspace Solarium Commission

 

Defense and Federal Government

Esper Details Approach for Strengthening Alliances, Partnerships
C. Todd Lopez, DoD News

Space Force Launches New Operations Branch
Rachel S. Cohen, Air Force Magazine

Space Force Grappling With How to Define Readiness
John A. Tirpak, Air Force Magazine

Commentary: Space Force should break the mold in recruiting and retaining talent
Eric Fanning, Space News

China’s provocations propel decision to include Australia in upcoming Malabar exercise
Bradley Bowman and Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery (ret.), Defense News

 

Policy

Deploying Contractor Service Contract Reporting in the System for Award Management
Kim Herrington, Acting Principal Director, Defense Pricing and Contracting

Directorate Name Change to Price, Cost and Finance
Kim Herrington, Acting Principal Director, Defense Pricing and Contracting

 

Congress

HASC Chair Adam Smith on a Democrat-led NatSec policy, modernization and a ‘500-ship Navy’
Joe Gould, Defense News

Top Lawmakers Look to Start Talks on 2021 Defense Policy Bill
Rachel S. Cohen, Air Force Magazine

House lawmakers announce new Space Force Caucus
Courtney Albon, Inside Defense

Lawmakers take steps to slow down sale of F-35s to UAE
Valerie Insinna, Defense News

 

Acquisition Tips and Tools, with Larry Asch

Commercial Contracting: Did the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act Work?

In 1994, the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act (FASA) required that federal agencies, to the maximum extent practicable, procure commercially available technology to meet their needs. Did It work?

In last week’s Newsletter Policy Section, we included the Federal Register announcement of splitting the definition of “commercial item” into the definitions of “commercial product” and “commercial service” as recommended by the Section 809 Panel.  

This was one of several commercial recommendations by the Section 809 Panel that would truly simplify contracts for commercial products and services as intended by FASA. This change will be a small step to resolve the issues the acquisition workforce has faced with implementation of FASA.

FASA took important steps to make the government more commercial-like in its dealings in the commercial marketplace. The preference to procure commercially available technology was a major shift that would allow ready access to the innovative and rapidly evolving commercial marketplace.

The preference to acquire commercial Items, Congressional interest, and threats from non-state actors should have been sufficient to simplify and change the culture towards this strong preference for commercial acquisitions. However, it has proven insufficient; the number of laws applicable to commercial products and services has increased substantially, there has been inconsistent interpretations of policy and procedures, confusing terminology, inconsistent definitions, and confusion over how to properly conduct market research, write requirements, and identify and price eligible commercial products and services. As a result, commercial buying has become less widespread in DoD than Congress intended. Only 18 percent of DoD’s total obligations in FY 2017 were for the acquisition of commercial items, and commercial item spending actually declined by 29 percent between FY 2012 and FY 2017.

In 2016 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found the Army acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” when it decided to develop a new increment of its main battlefield intelligence system from scratch and not buy commercially-available products. It is an interesting case that illustrates how challenging it is for defense acquisition professionals to feel comfortable fielding commercial technologies.

To truly simplify commercial buying, Congress needs to adopt statutory changes, and DoD should work to see what changes can be implemented now to reinforce the use of commercial acquisitions, conduct better market research, and improve the writing of requirements.

The panel’s recommendations on improving commercial buying practices are contained below. (I have left out the “Bold” Recommendation #35, which suggests DoD acquire readily available goods and services more in line with commercial business processes, since I believe that is a bridge too far and a discussion for another Issue.)

Section 809 Panel Commercial Recommendations:

  • Rec. 1 (Volume 1, Section 1, p. 15): Revise definitions related to commercial buying to simplify their application and eliminate inconsistency.
  • Rec. 2 (Volume 1, Section 1, p. 32): Minimize governmentunique terms applicable to commercial buying.
  • Rec. 3 (Volume 1, Section 1, p. 43): Align and clarify FAR commercial termination language.
  • Rec. 4 (Volume 1, Section 1, p. 46): Revise DFARS sections related to rights in technical data policy for commercial products.
  • Rec. 28 (Volume 2, Section 3, p. 102): Simplify the selection of sources for commercial products and services.
  • Rec. 62 (Volume 3, Section 6, p. 322): Update the FAR and DFARS to reduce burdens on DoD’s commercial supply chain to decrease cost, prevent delays, remove barriers, and encourage innovation available to the Military Services.
  • Rec. 63 (Volume 3, Section 6, p. 326): Create a policy of mitigating supply chain and performance risk through requirements documents.
  • Rec. 80 (Volume 3, Section 7, p. 434): Preserve the preference for procuring commercial products and services when considering small business set-asides.
  • Rec. 92 (Volume 3, Section 12, p. 512): Minimize the flowdown of government-unique terms in commercial buying by implementing Recommendation 2.