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Acquisition Cell to Speed Up Responses to Urgent Warfighter Needs

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 24, 2004 – A new Pentagon group is helping cut through red tape to speed up the process that gets urgently needed off-the-shelf equipment into the hands of troops fighting the war on terror.

The Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell, formed at the direction of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, is helping break through real or perceived roadblocks that delay getting lifesaving or mission-critical items or services to the field, Robert Buhrkuhl, director of the cell, explained today during a media roundtable discussion.

He said the new cell could cut months -- and in some cases, years -- out of the acquisition timetable.

Some combatant commanders, as well as acquisition experts, don't realize that many legal requirements that tend to bog down military contracts don't apply during wartime, particularly when they involve relatively small dollar amounts, Buhrkuhl explained.

Congress lifts many of these restrictions, he said, and the focus shifts to identifying urgent operational needs, finding ways to fill them, and moving the process along as quickly as possible.

"Congress has given the department authority and flexibility to meet many of these needs. Yet, all too often, our organizations are reluctant to take advantage of them," Wolfowitz wrote in his Sept. 3 memo ordering the new acquisition cell's stand up.

Wolfowitz also directed the Joint Staff, the combatant commands and each service to appoint a single point authorized to commit their organization's support to the cell. Buhrkuhl said assigning senior people to the cell who are empowered to make decisions moves the procurement process along. "Having to get permission slows things down," he said.

Buhrkuhl said the cell is focused on immediate needs associated with the global war on terror that can be purchased off the shelf. "We focus on near-term, logistical solutions," he said. "Our role is not to look forward to new technologies."

The new cell isn't introducing a new procurement process, Buhrkuhl stressed, just a way to help push critical requests through the existing process. "Our goal is to allow more flexibility to move things forward and save lives," he said. "Everyone is focused on what's best for the warfighter and saving lives and winning the war on terror."

Already the cell is helping speed up acquisitions of items combatant commanders call "immediate warfighting needs" --meaning, Buhrkuhl explained, that failure to quickly procure them could result in a loss of life or mission failure.

"Rapid" is the new cell's watchword. Its goal is to act on requests for immediate warfighter needs within 48 hours and at least within 14 days. Officials hope to ensure that a contract is awarded and the goods and services delivered within four months, Buhrkuhl said.

The cell currently receives requests via classified e-mail. The organization is setting up a classified portal that is expected to be operational by late December. All incoming requests for an urgent operational need must be signed off on by a general officer on the ground then by the Joint Staff, Buhrkuhl said.

And in the event a request is refused, the system includes a feedback mechanism so requesters aren't left to wonder if or when their requests will be acted on.

The most immediate items and services on the Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell's wish list are defenses against improvised explosive devices, side body-armor protection, body heating and cooling systems, and Arabic interpreters, Buhrkuhl said.

He said the cell hopes to see the contract awarded for the first request it received -- for Arabic interpreters -- by the month's end and is moving quickly on the other requests as well.

In addition, the cell has helped John Negroponte, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, sort through the acquisition process to speed up some procurements needed for his staff to continue setting up the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Buhrkuhl said DoD will assess the role of the Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell in three years to determine if it's still needed. But regardless of that decision, he's hopeful the cell will help lay new groundwork for streamlining the acquisition process so it's more responsive to warfighter needs.

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