Intel Community Takes Aim at Agile Acquisition

Published: June 05, 2013

Acquisition ReformCloud ComputingCybersecurityInnovationIntelligenceSequestration

Austerity measures are hitting everywhere in the government, and the Intelligence Community (IC) is no exception. At a recent AFCEA DC event, representatives from the National Security Agency (NSA), National Reconnaissance Organization (NRO), National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) discussed some of the ways their buying habits are changing. Like other areas, the reduced resources are prompting an increased focus within the IC on increasing efficiency and leveraging new technology. As it makes those shifts, the IC is also contending with training needs within the acquisition workforce.

Panelist at the event stressed the importance of revitalizing the partnership with industry. Efforts are being made to advise the Defense Industrial Base (DIB) on its role in sustaining the IC mission. An acquisition executive from NSA commented that increasing signal intelligence threats and rapidly evolving technology are significant challenges. The drive to invest in research and development for the future is countered by swelling cost of sustainment. In an effort to lower those costs, the IC is exploring technologies like cloud utilization, automated testing, and configuration management. They’re also looking at leveraging commercial technologies and services.  
The need to improve communication with industry is surfacing in other areas. For example, NGA is exploring how to share information and transfer knowledge from government to industry in the hopes of better leveraging internal research. At NRO, they’re working to address being unable to afford all of the options on some contracts by trying to negotiate the situation with contractors. In some cases, labor costs have been revisited to help meet agency needs.
Better Buying Power is being stressed and organizations are finding market research increasingly important. However, Lowest Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA) is not likely to trend in the IC. The message from the panel was clear: LPTA can be useful in some low complexity, low cost areas. However, the vague descriptions of LPTA are considered not conducive to the need for discriminators and specific technical requirements.
As IC organizations assess acquisition needs for recurring technology, they are keeping shared technology requirements in mind. Future investment areas are likely to target cross-IC initiatives. DIA is currently doing a fair amount of cross-IC work with NGA, and they’ve have found that one benefit of the collaboration is an increase in interoperability. While NGA may be issuing fewer contracts, they are pursuing more cross-IC initiatives. In fact, delivering a capability to one area of the IC could be an opportunity for industry to explore similar needs in other organizations.
Deltek has been forecasting increased spending as the fiscal year draws to a close. Many of those contracts are expected to be large, complex awards. For the IC, this may present a particular challenge. Furloughs within acquisition workforce pose a bottle neck. Compounding those potential delays, contract officers may either be unfamiliar with agile approaches or lack experience with complex awards.
Solicitations tend to reflect a fixed point in time, but IC user requirements are evolving. Agile delivery and incremental deployment of capabilities is more conducive to addressing that evolution. That said, the budget process and policies can be barriers to agility and rapid delivery.
Often times, where there is a substantial knowledgebase of experience, there’s often a focus on managing contracts, as opposed to managing programs. This indicates a distinct need for retraining and adjusting incentives that have encouraged the current set of habits. Historically, the Defense Industrial Base has mirrored the IC when it comes to contracting tendencies, so that will mean gradual change going forward as contracting shifts from Completion to Firm Fixed Price and Pay Per Use models.