DOD needs simpler contracting processes, lawmakers told

Lawmakers want a streamlined acquisition process that helps defense employees and doesn't intimidate potential contractors.

Congress and the Defense Department need to simplify the department's confusing and burdensome acquisition regulations in order to make the jobs of the acquisition workforce and contractors easier, the House Armed Services Committee recommended in a new report.

In one recommendation, the report says DOD and Congress should embark on a comprehensive review of laws and regulations related to procurement. They then should attempt to amend or even repeal outdated regulations. In doing so, officials should consider whether a rule has had unintended consequences that outweigh its original purpose.

“This effort should be undertaken with an eye to simplifying and streamlining all aspects of the acquisition process and reducing the negative cost and schedule impacts,” according to the report released March 20.

The House committee’s Panel on Business Challenges Within the Defense Industry released the report after discussing acquisition issues with more than 150 people from government, industry, think tanks and academia.

The panel learned in those discussions that the acquisition rules are constantly changing and are extremely complicated. The result is unnecessary complexity, confusion, and poor execution, which only furthers challenges for the acquisition workforce, according to the report.

The Office of Management and Budget urged agencies on March 20 to take similar steps in an effort to avoid duplication among regulations. It even urged agency officials to talk to contractors and other experts before they issue a proposed rule.

DOD's acquisition rules are off-putting to some companies, the panel wrote in its report.

“The plethora of regulations specific to government and defense contracting dissuades many companies from competing for government contracts,” the panel found.

The complexities also make it tough for the department’s acquisition workforce, which is going through a slow rebuilding process. Employees need a lot of training to understand the ins and outs of the acquisitions regulations and manage complex procurements, the panel wrote.

The workforce took a hit in the 1990s with a major reduction in its numbers. Nowadays, defense officials are attempting to rebuild it. They have hired a lot of new employees, dubbed by the panel as a “new-hire bulge.” Meanwhile many senior members are eligible for retirement.

“These parallel bulges constitute a ‘bathtub effect’ as mid-career personnel are not abundant enough to adequately replace the retirement bulge, nor provide for enough on-hands mentorship to the new-hire bulge,” the panel wrote.

DOD’s training now is very important, the panel added. Maturity in the job and higher education are keys to a strong workforce. It’s more than numbers.

Higher education equips acquisition workers with complex skill sets in finance, systems engineering, logistics, and operations management needed to administer large contracts and manage long-term technology projects.

In President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget proposal, DOD requested $374 million in its acquisition workforce development fund for recruiting and hiring acquisition and only $120 million, or less than a third, for training and development of the workforce, the panel points out.

“Just as it takes many years to develop a military leader capable of commanding at the senior ranks of the operational force, it takes a similar amount of time to develop an acquisition professional with the knowledge, skills, and experience needed to manage large defense acquisition efforts,” the panel wrote.