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Policy Revision Aims to Improve Acquisition Process

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 4, 2008 – A new Defense Department acquisition policy is designed to reduce delays and cost overruns that often plague the acquisition process, a senior defense official said today.

John Young, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, and a major force behind the new first major revision to the department’s acquisition policy in more than five years, approved the policy Dec. 2.

The revision took effect immediately and impacts the full scope of defense acquisition programs, including everything from major weapons systems to information systems, Skip Hawthorne, a senior acquisition analyst, told American Forces Press Service.

In a nutshell, the policy introduces more up-front investment and prototype development before programs are started, and stops after-the-fact requirements changes that delay the process and drive up costs, Hawthorne explained.

“In broad terms, we wanted to make sure that our programs were conceived, designed and executed more effectively than before,” he said.

The policy affects systems from the drawing-board stage of technology development -- referred to in acquisition circles as “Milestone A.”

Before promising, but not yet proven, technology is incorporated into a system to be developed, it first will be demonstrated on a prototype, Hawthorne said. The concept isn’t new. Young initiated a competitive prototyping policy in September to ensure technologies were “mature and demonstrated” before the systems they were to be used in advanced to the engineering and manufacturing development stage.

The new policy makes this step mandatory, with the Defense Department to award competitive contracts to develop prototypes.

“Now, if a program has not demonstrated key technologies, we will prototype them,” Hawthorne said. “As a result, we’ll have better information about how well we are doing instead of accepting assertions of capability. The key technologies must be demonstrated before we begin the engineering phase of development.”

Once the technologies are proven, the department will award a development contract.

“The whole notion is that the investment up front will result in greater knowledge and greater stability as we initiate the program,” Hawthorne said. “Our objective is to ensure that cost and schedule increases as a result of technical risk are substantially eliminated, and that our ability to achieve planned cost and schedule outcomes significantly improved.”

The new acquisition policy includes another key provision that prevents program developers from adding new requirements after a contract is awarded. So-called “configuration steering boards” will eliminate this practice, which Hawthorne said too often has slowed down programs and increased costs.

“The whole notion is to reject those kinds of changes and ensure the program remains stable, within its funding and within schedule, so the outcome to warfighters is produced on schedule and contributes to their warfighting capability,” he said.

Young called the new policy a major step forward as the department makes good on Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ goal of improving the acquisition process. “The directive reflects the conviction that our polices must be more disciplined and effective to ensure the results are more predictable, and that we are better stewards of taxpayer dollars,” he said.

Hawthorne agreed. “We want to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars and we want to produce the maximum capability for every dollar we spend,” he said. “We can’t afford, especially in tight budget times, to waste a single dollar. We need to be able to produce capability and produce it on time and within cost.”

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