The best IT acquisition isn't always the fastest, says Army official

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Speedy acquisition of information technology isn't always going to work  when it comes to meeting Army needs, said Tami Johnson, program manager for Army's Rapid Equipping Force.  

"We're getting a lot of pressure in DoD to come up with acquisition programs that we can deliver capability in 12 to 18 months," said Johnson April 17 at an AFCEA DC event in Arlington, Va.

Some technology can be delivered in 12 to 18 months, but "for some things it just doesn't work," she said. "When it doesn't make sense, regardless of the pressure, we need to be able to stand up and say: 'Look, if we develop this capability in 12 months, you're going to get garbage," said Johnson.

When something can be quickly deployed, Johnson said they're pushing out technology even if it isn't a "100 percent solution" to get feedback and better understand soldier needs. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is also acquiring more technology that's built to be piloted rather than built to last, said Ted Cope, director of GEOINT Research, InnoVision at NGA.

"The sooner you can get that conversation going and sustain it between the developers and the users, that's a key way to take advantage of good technology," said Cope.

As a result, new cost and acquisition models must be adopted, said Ira "Gus" Hunt, chief technology officer within the Central Intelligence Agency CIO office. He added that massive contract awards are a lose-lose, because they lock in government and they stymie contractor innovation.

"I don't want to get locked in to paying millions and millions of dollars of my precious capital resources in something that it turns out maybe wasn't the best thing we should have done for the long haul," said Hunt.

In general, contract models are a major frustration from the acquisition community, said Johnson.

"DoD always has the flavor of the month, and wants everyone to do firm fixed price, lowest price technically acceptable," said Johnson.

The truth is, the acquisition type should be tailored to the capability, she said. For example, for a standard laptop lowest price technically acceptable is the only way to go, but for other technology it would not be the best option.

"Sometimes it's a battle to get that approved through the higher because they do have the flavor of the month, but you do need to stand your ground," said Johnson.

Rather than focusing on lowest-cost possible Cope said NGA hopes to gain value from "the lowest classification possible."  

"We tend to do things in the TK closet and then it used to be all the cool things eventually leaked out to the commercial market," said Cope.

NGA is exploring ways to do more with open source software, open data and, most importantly, move to a data standards-based environment that promotes more uniform formats, said Cope.

For more:
- listen to the panel discussion

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