Monday, March 21, 2016

Is Acquisition Reform at the Pentagon a Lost Cause?
One of the clearest signs that the Pentagon, or at least the Air Force, has seemingly thrown in the towel on any reasonable approaches to “acquisition reform” is the news that the Air Force has turned to IBM’s Jeopardy-winning cognitive computer, Watson, to tame the beast that is defense procurement.
…The idea is to create a “bureaucracy buster, or let’s call it a decoder,” said Camron Gorguinpour, a senior official in the Air Force’s acquisitions office…
…The Pentagon’s procurement system is the “perfect application for Watson,” Gorguinpour said. “While our acquisition system is very complex, it is document based. . .It’s unreasonable to expect that a single individual or even a group of individuals to be able to fully understand all of the relevant documents to answer a specific question.”…
This initiative is not intended to replace the acquisition workforce, but to help enhance making more efficient procurement decisions.
…The system will not only help government procurement officials do their jobs—by being able to query the system to find out, for example, whether a contract can be awarded on a sole-source basis…
This is nothing short of textbook treating the systems of a disease, and expecting a silver bullet approach to taming a monster that has many cooks in the kitchen. Decades of neglect and cutting the acquisition workforce has made the proverbial chicken come home to roost. Not only is training insufficient, it is not preparing the workforce for the types of challenges they currently face. Further, the hiring process is just not getting the type of talent in the contracting, project management, engineering, and IT fields that are necessary to execute the mission.
Nonetheless, Congress needs a hard look in the mirror as to why the system is so complex, and in many regards, broken. The years of “fixing” issues with more and more legislation, more and more broken policy, and more and more oversight has created a bureaucratic mess.
One lonely voice in the crowd is Dan Ward, a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, who has written several books on real world examples of rapid technological innovation, despite the defense procurement system. His work should be must-reading for all involved in acquiring goods and services at the Pentagon, and hopefully help those realize there is a better way.
 I just find it disheartening the sheer frustration at the inability to make real change happen at Defense, to the point that Watson has to be brought in for relief. Mr. Ward demonstrates that there is a better way, but when no one is listening, I suppose the approach is akin to surgery using a chainsaw, and not a scalpel.
I wonder if Watson will find fault with it’s own contract?

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