One of today’s leading topics of discussion is the govern- ment-industry relationship. Simply put, will we ever get it right? I now have had the chance to look at this question from both sides of the
fence, and the picture is no prettier
from the industry vantage point.
We have a huge communication
challenge between government and
industry. It impedes the ability of both
camps to achieve their goals and puts
mission success at constant risk. Government needs the right goods and services, acquired at a fair price, to accomplish its objectives. Companies want
to deliver goods and services in a way
that delights their customers and makes a fair profit for their
investments and risk. Unfortunately, the results too often leave
one or both factions with regrets. Imprudent implementation
of policies and poor practices that restrict, rather than guide,
collaboration often are at fault.
The idea of open communication channels and shared risks
and rewards for public-private engagement is not new. Since
I began my military career in the late 1970s, I have witnessed
several attempts at acquisition reform. Despite these efforts,
much is left to be desired.
While the conversation continues, the stakes increase. The
country is carrying greater debt and must find ways to reduce
it. Global competition is putting greater pressure on our industries and the jobs they represent. Technology is changing faster,
and adversaries now operate on cycles that mandate a more
nimble response. Mission requirements demand a smart,
responsive acquisition model that supports much more effective government and industry engagement while preserving
We need more face-to-face conversation. A big gap exists
between an appropriate level of communication and what
actually occurs. Lawyers and acquisition experts on both sides
advise against direct engagement for fear of tainting the acquisition process, but this is exacerbating the problem. Ensuring
that a mutually acceptable, pre-established set of rules for
direct dialogue is defined and understood is a must.
We need a winnowing process that supports open competition upfront and then lends itself to more substantive discussions among a downselected field of industry representatives
and the right government counterparts.
As an industry representative, I need to hear straight from
the operators charged with mission accomplishment so I can
understand their greatest challenges and optimize investment
dollars to meet them. Government operators, on the other
hand, need an unfiltered understanding of what industry can
do, the approximate costs and a realistic timetable for delivery.
To maintain an honest playing field in industry, these factors
Will Government and Industry Ever Get It Right?
BY LT. GEN. MICHAEL BASLA, USAF (RET.) should be incentivized and used as evaluation criteria for
follow-on pursuits. This type of accountability will improve the
quality of goods and services while bringing down costs.
Governing practices should ensure that parties on both sides
who start the process together cross the finish line together.
This will lead to fewer changes, deeper trust and an improved
team outlook that includes shared goals and ownership.
The government’s lowest price technically acceptable (LPTA)
acquisition strategy poses another set of challenges. While the
goal of acquiring minimally acceptable goods and services at
the lowest price makes sense, the outcomes often do not.
As a government leader, I frequently saw contract awards
that did not cover minimally acceptable needs. This led to
change orders, budget overruns and—even worse—unmet
expectations. Too often, the losers were those left with the
responsibility to accomplish the mission. Such unacceptable
consequences could have been avoided through the upfront
engagement I advocate.
Recently, lower profit margins have squeezed certain segments of the defense industry out of the market, leading to
more consolidation. This means shrinking competition, which
likely will have the opposite effect of the LPTA intent. Less
competition usually leads to higher prices. The LPTA strategy
should be limited to acquisitions that make the most sense: say,
for certain hardware, commercial off-the-shelf software and
Closer coordination, better communication and stronger
partnerships will help all parties control costs and deliver true
best value. Government planners need to understand the cost
of delays. When they publish schedules that continuously are
pushed to the right, industry is forced to spend more on proposals and benched staff than originally planned. This increase
in the cost of doing business eventually is passed on to government. We need strict discipline to maintain the timelines
posted for all phases of the acquisition process.
Every player in the process must be focused on common
criteria for success. Risks and rewards should be shared by all.
Government should incorporate innovation as a requirement
in acquisitions to benefit from improved effectiveness, and
industry should be rewarded for
The desire and need to improve
the way government acquires
capabilities and the manner
industry delivers them is not new.
Finding opportunities to improve
and establishing incentives for doing so must be the focus of all
interested parties. The future of our national security depends
on our getting it right.
Lt. Gen. Michael Basla, USAF (Ret.), the former chief of
information dominance and chief information officer of the
U.S. Air Force, is the senior vice president of Advanced Solutions for L- 3 National Security Solutions.
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