Running the Acquisition Gauntlet
Guest Blogger ~ Al Kaniss
A recent blog got me thinking about people who could be considered heroes – those we admire for their qualities and abilities. I’d definitely include those people who are successful in getting a new and better capability deployed to our customers, most notably the Fleet.
Deploying a new capability typically involves acquisition. It’s common to confuse acquisition with procurement. While both activities involve buying something, acquisition is a much more complex arena that includes procurement, as well as design, engineering, test and evaluation, and operations and support. In the defense world, acquisition is also subject to the full range of regulatory oversight. After all, we’re spending the public’s money, and the media is quick to publicize and criticize any system that doesn’t seem to make good use of those funds.
Not surprisingly, the more expensive the system, the more regulatory oversight it receives, and the higher level the oversight authority. This oversight manifests itself in two primary forms: documentation and reviews.
There is a tremendous amount of documentation associated with acquisition, requiring such items as an Acquisition Decision Memorandum, Analysis of Alternatives, C4 Integrated Support Plan, Capability Development Document, Cost Analysis Requirements Description, Mission Need Statement, Operational Requirements Document, Program Protection Plan, Specification, Statement of Work, and Test and Evaluation Master Plan, to name but just a few. This documentation doesn’t just take a lot of time and effort to prepare, but must be approved by appropriate authorities before the acquisition may proceed.
There are also numerous reviews to make and keep a program viable, including Milestone Decision Authority decision points, Navy acquisition gate reviews, technical reviews, acquisition reviews, Independent Technology Assessment, and Integrated Logistics Assessments.
Other challenges to acquisition success include delays in getting funding, getting funding in numerous increments rather than in one lump sum, and the ever present risk of having funding retracted. I know of one case where funding was delayed until late in the fiscal year, and only a few days after receipt, the sponsor was already threatening to pull back the money because it wasn’t being expended.
Given the myriad constraints in the environment we work in, we also need to make a lot of trades during the acquisition. There’s always the struggle between doing it right and getting it done within cost and schedule. Add in the Fleet’s demand for rapid capability, and there’s even more pressure to cut corners. Continuing Resolutions by Congress add even more challenges as funding gets even less stable.
Given the environment we work in, a veritable gauntlet we must traverse, getting any product to the Fleet these days is a tremendous accomplishment. It may not always be possible to give our customers everything they want, exactly what they want, or full capability all at once, but what we provide is typically much superior to existing capability in terms of reliability, maintainability, fidelity, ease of use, accuracy and lethality.
So if you’ve been involved with getting any new or improved capability out to the Fleet lately, good for you, and of course good for our customer. While you may not have received formal awards or recognition for your accomplishment, you are still one of our heroes. You have demonstrated initiative, creativity, hard work, persistence and determination. Hopefully you can get a lot of satisfaction that you’re helping keep our warfighters out of harm’s way and able to return home safely and victoriously.