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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 1.22.2021

January 22, 2021                                                                                                        Issue 39

We’re seeing lots of expected personnel turnover as the Biden-Harris administration gets underway. The waiver for Lloyd Austin has been approved in both the House and the Senate, and his official nomination as Secretary of Defense is up for confirmation vote in the Senate around 10:30 this morning. In acquisition and modernization, the push for integrating DevSecOps and agile approaches continues throughout the federal government. In ARP news, we’re excited to invite you to two upcoming events, a webinar on software acquisition and our world-class annual acquisition symposium in a new, online format. Can’t wait to see many of you in our new digital gathering place.


This Week’s Top Story

Congress approves waiver for Biden’s pick for defense secretary
Joe Gould and Leo Shane III, Defense News

President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Pentagon took a major step toward confirmation Thursday, after House and Senate lawmakers voted to waive a law blocking the recently retired general from assuming the post.

That means Lloyd Austin, the former Army four-star general and head of U.S. Central Command, could be confirmed as the military’s new leader and the first Black defense secretary as early as Friday.

The House first voted on a bipartisan basis, 326-78 to waive the seven-year cooling-off period for Austin, who retired in 2016, to serve in the top Pentagon job. The Senate, where the waiver needed 60 votes to pass, approved it soon after with a bipartisan tally of 69-27.

Read more.


ARP and NPS News

Webinar: Innovations in Software Acquisition at the Department of Defense
February 3, 2021  |  11:00 a.m-12:15 p.m. PT

Join us for a discussion on current challenges and best practices for software acquisition. Learn about recent changes in policy, regulation, and law that are working to improve software acquisition in the Department of Defense.

Registration is open for the 18th Annual Acquisition Research Symposium
This year’s event will be held May 11-13, 2021 as a live, interactive webinar presented through Zoom for Government. Seats are limited; register today to make sure you hear the latest in acquisition research and updates from senior policymakers.

Call for Applications: Master of Science in Contract Management
Applications are due March 29 for the distance-learning offering of NPS’s degree in contract management. The Master of Science in Contract Management (MSCM) is designed to provide an advanced education in the concepts, methodologies and analytical techniques necessary for successful management of acquisition and contracting within complex organizations. The MSCM program is open to qualified DoD civilians and other federal government agencies, uniformed officers, and a limited number of DoD contractors. During this 24-month distance program, students who complete the program attain DAWIA Level III training and education requirements for the CON Series. Classes start July 6.


Acquisition and Innovation

President Biden taps Obama alums to lead GSA tech, acquisition
Billy Mitchell, Fedscoop

DISA’s first-ever production OTA eliminated $300M in future costs
Jared Serbu and Scott Maucione, Federal News Network

Top Navy IT office planning how to speed up software development
Andrew Eversden, C4ISRNET

Will Roper to whoever replaces him at Air Force: Stay agile
Jackson Barnett, Fedscoop

Just hours before Biden’s inauguration, the UAE and US come to a deal on F-35 sales
Valerie Insinna, Defense News



Great Power Competition in the Cognitive Age: Adm. Cecil D. Haney, USN (Ret.)
Virtual Secretary of the Navy Guest Lecture at NPS
January 26, 2021  |  3:00 pm PT

Pub K’s Government Contracts Annual Review
January 25-28, 2021 



In win for Austin, top Senate Democrat agrees to back waiver
Connor O’Brien, Politico

Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official
Jordain Carney, The Hill

Biden names temporary VA leadership as his secretary nominee awaits Senate debate
Leo Shane III, Military Times



The U.S. Defense Industry in a New Era
Doug Berenson, Chris Higgins, And Jim Tinsley  |  War on the Rocks


Defense and Federal Government

Presidential Inauguration Includes a Digital Transition
Aaron Boyd, Nextgov

As 5G auction continues, Pentagon turns to safety planning
Valerie Insinna and Aaron Mehta, Defense News

Marine Corps to Stand Up First Marine Littoral Regiment in FY 2022
Mallory Shelbourne, USNI News

Roth takes over as acting Air Force secretary
Stephen Losey, Air Force Times

Pentagon announces new acting CIO as Deasy departs
Andrew Eversden, C4ISRNET



Memorandum: Succession Plan for January 20, 2021
Deputy Secretary of Defense

Here’s Who Will Be Running the Pentagon When Biden Takes Office
Katie Bo Williams, Defense One


Acquisition Tips and Tools, with Larry Asch

Deliver “The Answer”

I’ve been blessed to work with many good Acquisition Corps board-certified Project and Product Managers (PMs) in my career. The DoD has invested heavily in training, education, and experience for program managers who are tasked to solve some very complex challenges to meet the mission. One project manager I supported used to speak about the importance of delivering “The Answer.” His leadership brief on the topic hit these key points:

  • Often we find ourselves with difficult questions (strategy questions, technical questions, process questions, cost questions, etc.).
  • Coming up with “the answer” — the right answer — is what separates the best people from the average people.
  • Look around your organization. Who consistently gives you “the answer” … and who consistently gives you “a better description of the problem?”
  • Mission accomplishment means coming up with “the answer.”

This week I’m providing some tips and tools on how to provide The Answer. I was lucky when I came onboard as an Army Civilian because there were many mentors to help me learn the fundamentals of acquisition, contracting, and how to think. One was a lawyer at Fort Monmouth who helped me with walk through the logic for providing the right answer: 

  1. What is the real "issue”?
  2. When is it needed? (But note that fast is no good if the answer is wrong.)
  3. Make sure you have all the relevant "facts" or gather any additional "facts" needed.  As Albert Einstein famously said, “If I had only 1 hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem, and only 5 minutes finding the solution.”  
  4. Contact someone in your network who is familiar with this issue. If you don’t have a robust network, get one. Make sure you get a reference to the laws, regulations, and policies (LRPs); it’s not acceptable to say to your PM or boss, “I got this answer from a friend.”
  5. Research the LRPs.  (Golden Rule: Don't be afraid to revisit above). 
  6. Do not forget that research must include all applicable layers.  For example, in DoD contracting, the LRPs consist of the following "layers", in descending order:
    1. Statutes
    2. FAR
    3. DFARS
    4. Service level regulations (e.g., AFARS, AFFARS, etc.)
    5. Local Command/Agency regulations/policies 
  7. There are many tools to help you on your research such as:
    1. WIFCON (My favorite)
    2. GAO Redbook, GAO Guides, and numerous GAO Protest decisions
    3. Federal Computer Week
    4. The Defense Acquisition Innovation Repository (DAIR) at NPS’s Acquisition Research Program
    5. Congressional Research Service Reports
    6. LinkedIn
    7. Defense Acquisition University
    8. Adaptive Acquisition Framework
    9. AiDA – MITRE Corporation
    10. National Contract Management Association
  8. Apply your research to the facts.
  9. Two possible results:
    1. The LRPs provide an obvious, clear, unambiguous, "black & white" answer.
    2. The answer is not clear in the LRPs and must be "interpreted" based on similar facts you uncovered in your research. You will need to make a determination as to the most appropriate answer.

You can help your PM or boss succeed at complex missions by doing your research, discovering all the facts, and then delivering the answer.