About this podcast
A podcast on the management, technology, and political-economy of weapon systems acquisition.
About this podcast
A podcast on the management, technology, and political-economy of weapon systems acquisition.
Big questions in defense acquisition with Col. Bryon McClain
I was pleased to speak with Colonel Bryon McClain on the Acquisition Talk podcast to discuss the biggest questions facing the defense acquisition system. He is the senior acquisition course instructor at the Eisenhower School, and before that he was the materiel leader for the rapid acquisition branch in the MILSATCOM directorate at the Space and Missile Systems Center. We touch on: - The role of interservice rivalry in military innovation - How today's processes address risk but not uncertainty - Moving past cost accounting when monitoring contracts - How unintended consequences plagued the C-5 development - Whether reform should focus on workforce culture or rules and regs In the episode, Bryon suggests a framework for how to interrelate the defense acquisition system with multiple fields of thought. One interesting aspect of that is the concept of American anti-statism along the industry and political axis in which it is agreed that government won't pick winners and losers but instead write the "rules of the road." In defense, however, the government writes the contracts with industry. So it has to pick winners and losers, right? In some cases that is true -- DoD is living with the winners of previous competitions. But for disruptive capabilities, DoD could help create markets. Bryon points to the Air Force's agility prime initiative, which seeks to support commercial eVTOL companies with the expectation of military applications to follow. While government may let contracts which still has a winner/loser aspect, there are many other ways about it. For example, providing companies equal access to test ranges and facilities, or providing industry subsidies like in solar panels and electric cars. As companies move down the cost curve, DoD becomes well placed to access disruptive innovation earlier and create dynamism in its industrial base. This podcast was produced by Eric Lofgren. Soundtrack by urmymuse: "reflections of u". You can follow us on Twitter @AcqTalk and find more information at AcquisitionTalk.com.
How innovation really works with Anne Marie Knott
Anne Marie Knott joined me on the Acquisition Talk podcast to discuss her book How Innovation Really Works. She is a professor of strategy and innovation at Washington University at St. Louis, and is a former researcher at Hughes. Anne Marie tackles a lot of innovation dogma, including whether: - Smaller companies more effective at R&D than large - US federal research has actually declined - Decentralized R&D beats out central labs - We've picked the low hanging fruit and science is slowing down - Firms are not spending enough on R&D In the episode, Anne Marie discusses her measure for R&D productivity called the research quotient (RQ). You can think of it as the relationship between R&D spending and revenues for a given firm, controlling for other factors including capital (from the balance sheet), labor (from the number of employees), and a couple other variables. The more responsive revenues are to changes in R&D spending, the more productive a firm's R&D is relative to other firms. Anne Marie draws a number of conclusions from looking at firm RQs across sector and time. She finds a 65% decline in average R&D productivity over the past five or so decades. Two-thirds of firms are actually spending too much on R&D, and could increase revenues by cutting R&D. But she's also seen maximum RQs increasing over time particularly in newly formed industries, so there seems to be this divergence in outcomes. Anne Marie takes an optimistic view. There are ways firms can improve their R&D productivity, lessons that can benefit defense policy makers. This podcast was produced by Eric Lofgren. Soundtrack by urmymuse: "reflections of u". You can follow us on Twitter @AcqTalk and find more information at AcquisitionTalk.com.
Great Power Competition with Richard Danzig
Richard Danzig joined me on a joint episode of the Acquisition Talk and China Talk podcasts to discuss US-China relations and military innovation. Richard is a Senior Fellow at Johns Hopkins APL, a former Secretary of the Navy, and much more than that. We traverse a number of subjects, including: How the risk of war with China is reflected in trade policy The problems regulators face in high-tech industries Views on growing the US Navy to 500 ships How US prime contracts differ from state-owned enterprises Whether the Chinese are more risk-tolerant than the US This podcast was produced by Eric Lofgren. Soundtrack by urmymuse: "reflections of u". You can follow us on Twitter @AcqTalk and find more information at AcquisitionTalk.com.
Risk, cost, and project management with Christian Smart
Christian Smart joined me on the Acquisition Talk podcast to discuss his new book, Solving for Project Risk Management. He is the chief scientist at Galorath Federal, and before that he was the cost chief at the Missile Defense Agency. We touch on a number of important issues, including: - Whether Augustine's Laws still have relevance - The track record of NASA's better, faster, cheaper program - How to do cost estimates on data projects like AI/ML - Whether the DoD is trying to jam too many programs into the budget - The effect of MDA's matrixed organizational design In his book, Christian talked about a prevailing belief in the 2000s that the Department of Defense could benefit from a "free lunch" when it funded to portfolios of projects. Similar to how diversification between uncorrelated assets gives investors the chance to get the same return with lower risk (or a higher return for the same risk), funding a group of projects at the 60th percentile cost estimate could achieve an 80 percent confidence level for the portfolio overall. Christian argues that projects have asymmetric probability distributions for cost and schedule. You are more likely to see black swans in the cost growth direction than you are in cost savings. When more projects are put under a portfolio, the likelihood that one of them will have relatively extreme cost growth increases. We discuss the implications of this result, and what procedures managers can take to mitigate or even remedy the effects.
Digital acquisition with Bryon Kroger and Matt Nelson
Bryon Kroger and Matt Nelson joined me on the Acquisition Talk podcast to talk about digital transformation in the Department of Defense. They are the CEO and COO of Rise8, a digital consulting company, and previously had leading roles in the Air Force's Kessel Run software factory. In the episode, we talk about: - Roper's 'There is no Spoon' paper on the digital trinity - Their take on the new DoDI 5000.87 Software Acquisition Pathway - What it means for government to "own" the tech stack - How Rise8 will support the Advanced Battle Management Program - Why the DoD's budget process makes digital transformation difficult
Tech competition in China and the United States with Michael Brown
In this special crossover episode with ChinaTalk podcast host Jordan Schneider, we interview director of the Defense Innovation Unit Michael Brown. We touch on a number of topics, including: Industrial espionage and foreign investment The debate over basic vs. applied research China starting to determine technical standards Coordinating with allies on semiconductors Transitioning tech in the DoD Before taking the helm of DIU in 2018, Michael co-authored a study with Pravneet Singh showing how Chinese participation in the US venture/tech ecosystem had surged from $300 million in 2010 to $11.52 billion in 2015. The Chinese made up of 16 percent of all deals in 2016. That work launched the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act (FIRRMA) which strengthened the government's ability to block Chinese investments. While the Chinese still work hard to transfer technology from the West, in several cases China itself is setting the standards and aggressively exporting that to other countries. They have national champions for artificial intelligence, e-commerce, 5G, drones, and so forth, which are strategically subsidized to achieve a monopoly on infrastructure. The competition with China is not like the Cold War. Decades ago, the Soviets were at a disadvantage. They (1) had a much smaller economy (about half the size); (2) were not integrated with the global economy; and (3) were not developing technology standards. The answer is not to anoint domestic champions in the United States, but to invest more heavily in S&T and provide safeguards to protect it from IP theft. This podcast was produced by Eric Lofgren. Soundtrack by urmymuse: "reflections of u". You can follow us on Twitter @AcqTalk and find more information at AcquisitionTalk.com.
Special: Intellectual property in defense contracts
In this special episode of the Acquisition Talk podcast, we listen in to a great conversation on intellectual property in defense. The panel is moderated by my colleague Jim Hasik (who, by the way, has a great blog) and features Richard Gray (the DoD's IP chief), Shay Assad (former DoD pricing chief), Kelly Kyes (Boeing), and Bill Elkington (former IP director at Collins Aerospace). There were tons of great insights throughout, including: What causes companies to "buy-in" on production Whether there is a level playing field for commercial and defense contractors The difference between OMIT and DMPD data How the DoD is moving to negotiate specially tailored deals early Whether government should get IP rights for a modified commercial product The conversation is teed off by Jim's third IP white paper where he looked at the effects of IP rights on the prices of military trucks using a natural experiment. The Army bought the IP rights to the FMTV cargo truck while the Marines did not buy the IP rights for their equivalent MTVR. When they came up on follow-on procurement contracts, both services saw price increases roughly 20 percent, despite the fact the Army bought the IP rights. Jim has a good bit to say about that and more nuance in the paper. There were tons of great discussions, but one that caught my ear was the difference between IP rights related to defense and commercial contractors. Shay Assad argued that defense contractors have their independent R&D costs reimbursed by government, which puts them on an uneven playing field with commercial companies who funded R&D our of their gross profits. That dichotomy in risk should have consequences on pricing and on IP rights. Kelly Kyes argued that defense IR&D doesn't have commercial applications, so needs riskless reimbursement, and in the case of Other Transactions contracts, it waives the necessity of cost-sharing requirements for nontraditional contractors. This podcast was produced by Eric Lofgren. Soundtrack by urmymuse: "reflections of u". You can follow us on Twitter @AcqTalk and find more information at AcquisitionTalk.com.
Navy shipyards and defense supply chains with Maiya Clark
Researcher Maiya Clark at the Heritage Foundation joined me on the Acquisition Talk to discuss her recent paper on the Navy's public shipyards as well as other industrial base matters. She finds that the four remaining public shipyards, which service the Navy's entire nuclear fleet, are all over 100 years old. They are not designed to maintain larger ships like the Ford-class carriers or Block 5 of the Virginia-class submarines. As a result of under-investment in capital, maintenance delays have been on the rise. Though delays have trended back in the right direction, exceptional procedures like 45% overtime on an on-going basis cannot last forever. During the episode, we discuss: - The Navy's Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Plan (SIOP) - How a fault line can claim one shipyard in Puget Sound - What's wrong with Buy American proposals - A research agenda for defense supply chains - The viability of Trusted Capital Marketplace One major issue concerning the public shipyards is whether they can service a growing fleet. While the Navy's ship count reached a nadir of 275, Congress was receptive to a plan for 355 ships. More recent discussions have the figure north of 500. Much of that expansion is in non-nuclear surface and unmanned vessels. But it still raises the question about shipyard maintenance capacity. The Navy's SIOP capital investment plan of $21 billion over 20 years -- which is likely to be underfunded -- will recover most of the expected maintenance delays for today's fleet. Even if the Navy could expand ship production, it isn't clear how they could be maintained. The Navy may find itself with the same readiness metrics debate going on in the tactical aircraft world. I see two interpretations. First, over-production of major weapons that cannot be sustained in peacetime is a risk-management proposition. Production lead times are very long. In times of emergency, it is easier to surge operations and support capacity than it is industrial production capacity. Countering that view, it is likely that many existing weapon systems will be found vulnerable to new systems and CONOPS. Having more outdated and outclassed systems could be a recipe for disaster. Such was the stance the US Army found itself in prior to WWII. For example, General Hap Arnold said using B-18s against Germany was "suicide." This podcast was produced by Eric Lofgren. Soundtrack by urmymuse: "reflections of u". You can follow us on Twitter @AcqTalk and find more information at AcquisitionTalk.com.
An aviator's perspective on AlphaDogfight, NGAD, and beyond with Ryan "Stinger" Fishel
Ryan "Stinger" Fishel joined me on the Acquisition Talk podcast to discuss the future of the fighter aircraft community. Ryan is an F-15E pilot for the United States Air Force and a friend whose perspective I've benefited from over the past year. The views Ryan expresses in this episode are his own. Throughout the podcast, we discuss a number of timely issues, including: Implications of the DARPA AlphaDogfight simulation Hot takes on the news of NGAD's first demonstrator Why it's important to think about self-contained logistics How operators fit into the acquisition process John Boyd's legacy on tactics and the mental/moral aspects of war In the episode, Ryan argues that there is plenty of room for artificial intelligence to automate the tasks of a fighter pilot. However, many aspects of the job seem to require an understanding of the context that's beyond AI at this point. The battlefield can be a complex place with multiple actors of differing intentions. Escalation has to be managed carefully, as tactical decisions increasingly have operational or strategic implications. We also discussed the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program. Recently, the Air Force announced that it built a new demonstrator aircraft in just one year as part of the program using digital engineering and mature subsystems. NGAD isn't intended to result in just a single aircraft, but progress a family of systems that can be integrated onto a new platform every few years. It hearkens back to how military aircraft used to be developed in the 1940s and 1950s. Though NGAD is controversial, it intends to inject competition into the aerospace industry, which has been going through a long period of consolidation and stagnation. This podcast was produced by Eric Lofgren. Soundtrack by urmymuse: "reflections of u". You can follow us on Twitter @AcqTalk and find more information at AcquisitionTalk.com.
Defense Budget Reform with Katharina McFarland, Bill Greenwalt, and Bob Daigle
I was please to host a webinar event with George Mason's Center for Government Contracting featuring three former Pentagon executives. We discussed my white paper on defense budget reform, which provides an overview of (1) the history of budgeting; (2) why budget reform is necessary for accelerating innovation; and (3) a proposed solution. I argue that the budget is the primary obstacle to transforming the defense force structure away from legacy platforms and toward emerging technologies. If budget line items can be consolidated, allowing more flexibility to start, ramp up, pivot, or cancel projects, it will provide mission-driven organizations the one thing they've always lacked: the ability to become true portfolio managers. I was joined by Katharina McFarland (former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition), Bill Greenwalt (former SASC staffer and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Industrial Policy), and Bob Daigle (former HASC staffer and Director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation). In general, they agree with the idea of budget reform I put forward, but each panelist had their own insights and perspectives to add. Katharina argued that the defense acquisition process is not agile by design, and it cannot be changed overnight. There are too many people that have equity in each and every program, slowing the entire process down and creating roadblocks to substantial change. She considers how people aspect of the problem, as well as how to create better systems of data collection and analysis to inform decisions than what we currently have in the budget. Bill considers the defense budget process as a relic of the Cold War that needs complete change. The DoD attached itself to central planning ideologies because (1) it was the best practices of 1950s firms like Ford Motor and GM; and (2) because the Soviet Union posed an existential threat. Yet as Bill argues, the waterfall planning processes the DoD installed actually led to the rapid decline of US auto-makers in the decades after. Moreover, the US didn't win the Cold War because its defense management was better than at central planning than the Soviets, but simply because the US had a market economy. With modern tech companies doing agile development and a new Chinese threat, there may be a window to complete overhaul of the defense budget like was done in 1961. Bob points to the requirements process as the root of many problems with budgeting and accelerating technology. Requirements take several years to get defined, and are detailed to an excruciating level. That detail hen gets reflected in the programs that get budgeted for, creating inflexibility. Bob argues that both requirements and budgets should be less specified -- raised up a couple levels -- but that the fundamental Planning-Programming-Budgeting-Execution process is sound. Bob argues that defense is too big and complex to change at once, and requires smaller pilot programs that carve out completely new space that can then be scaled. This podcast was produced by Eric Lofgren. Soundtrack by urmymuse: "reflections of u". You can follow us on Twitter @AcqTalk and find more information at AcquisitionTalk.com.
Blockchain's potential for government with SIMBA Chain's Joel Neidig
Joel Neidig joined me on the Acquisition Talk podcast to discuss how blockchain technology can support the military across a wide range of use-cases including supply chain management, financial transactions, additive manufacturing, secure communications, digital engineering, and much more. He is the co-founder and CEO of SIMBA Chain, a startup that won an early DARPA grant back in 2016 exploring blockchain's potential for secure communications. The dual-use company has branched out into the military services, providing customers with low-code tools to build a diverse set of applications on top of several blockchain protocols. For those unfamiliar, blockchain is basically a shared ledger that makes an immutable record of transactions, verified through a peer-to-peer network. The network nodes check and validate transactions for consistency, making it incredibly difficult to attack. Of course, Bitcoin and the use-case for money is a popular application. But Joel explained how SIMBA Chain is working with Boeing and other companies to create a trusted supply chain. Any digital or physical item can be given a unique identifier on the blockchain, creating a trusted record of the transfer of goods throughout the supply chain, such as from a producer to a shipping terminal, then to a ship, delivery truck, storage at another supplier, integration onto a component or subsystem, and so on until an end-item is delivered to the customer. This not only protects the supply chain from cyber risks emanating from counterfeit or tampered hardware, but also non-malicious problems due to non-conforming parts that may be the wrong version or spec. Supply chain is just one blockchain application among many that could help revolutionize the way government does business and fights a war. While the US government is only putting a million dollars here and there into blockchain, China is putting billions of dollars into their own blockchain capabilities. China is forcing US suppliers like Starbucks and Wal-Mart onto their national blockchain, which is soon be the only way they are able to do business in China. The Pentagon cannot afford to slow-roll its adoption of blockchain because it will be a crucial factor in securing and automating workflows for additive manufacturing, artificial intelligence, financial transactions, and much more. This podcast was produced by Eric Lofgren. Soundtrack by urmymuse: "reflections of u". You can follow us on Twitter @AcqTalk and find more information at AcquisitionTalk.com.
JADC2 and decision-centric warfare with Dan Patt and Bryan Clark
I was pleased to have Dan Patt and Bryan Clark join me on the Acquisition Talk podcast to discuss a range of important subjects including mosaic warfare, joint all-domain command and control, the digital century series, systems architecture, and more. Bryan is the Director of a new center at the Hudson Institute, Defense Concepts and Technologies, where he is joined by a former deputy director at DARPA, Dan Patt. The two make a formidable team, and their center will help fill an important gap in the application of emerging technologies to military concepts of operation. In the episode, Dan and Bryan argue that the DoD's reliance of monolithic platforms -- a relic of the Cold War era -- makes it increasingly fragile to defeat against peer adversaries. Major systems today are expected to perform numerous missions, and package within them their own sensors, command and control, combat systems, and so forth. This not only increases unit costs and decreases force structure, but limits the number of different ways force packages can be composed. US commanders are thus limited in their options for effecting a result, making them much more predictable and subject to counter-measures. The alternative is decomposing monolithic platforms into a wide array of smaller systems. While each system itself has fewer capabilities and is less survivable, there will be far more of them. Their lower cost allows them to be attritable, and benefit from increased competition and economies of scale. Importantly, commanders will have far more options to decompose and re-compose the force structure. An important element in the mosaic warfare concept is joint all-domain command and control, or JADC2. This can be described as the network that connects the relevant nodes of the disaggregated force structure, such as between sensor and shoot, and is often called the military "internet-of-things." With a rise in the need for interfaces, we discuss a path forward to create ad-hoc interoperability between unique system requirements called STITCHES. This by-passes many of the rigidities facing the need to agree on global standards common in today's modular open systems architectures. This podcast was produced by Eric Lofgren. Soundtrack by urmymuse: "reflections of u". You can follow us on Twitter @AcqTalk and find more information at AcquisitionTalk.com.
OTAs and everything else with Ben McMartin
In a special webinar event of the Acquisition Talk podcast, I spoke with the excellent Ben McMartin. He is a managing partner at the Public Spend Forum, and before that was chief of the Acquisition Management Office at the Army's CCDC Ground Vehicle Systems Center. He has been at the center of the recent rise of Other Transactions contracting in the Department of Defense, founding the Acquisition Innovation Roadshow and leading the Joint Acquisition Agility Summit. In the episode, Ben argues that Other Transactions -- a method of contracting outside the Federal Acquisition Regulation -- is not simply a way to cut corners or move faster. Instead, it is a way to collaborate with industry, which is particularly important in the research and development stage. If the level of collaboration with industry starts to feel "dirty and wrong," then you're almost doing it right! This is important because R&D efforts cannot be priced like commodities. Instead, the contract terms must be flexible to updated information. What matters is how much funding is available, and what are the relevant alternative actions that could be a better use of funds. Ben provides a ton of insights on contracting, barriers to entry, and more: - Why industry buy-in will drive continued OTA growth - How OTA consortia grew up in response to researchers wanting to outsource bookkeeping - What are the two ways to OTA? - How to determine value outside of price - The lack of success stories with follow-on production Two big insights for me were: (1) prototyping must be increased at the subsystem level using OTAs and other authorities like 2373 for experimental purposes, and then rather than transition to an OTA production follow-on, should more realistically be transitioned to the large primes for integration; and (2) that there is no objective cost for real innovative products from non-traditionals, the buyer must know the technologies and relevant analogies and do a more subjective evaluation to triangular a "fair and reasonable" price. This podcast was produced by Eric Lofgren. Soundtrack by urmymuse: "reflections of u". You can follow us on Twitter @AcqTalk and find more information at AcquisitionTalk.com.
Analyzing the defense industrial base with Amanda Bresler and Alex Bresler
The sibling team that is Amanda Bresler and Alex Bresler joined me on the Acquisition Talk podcast to discuss their recent data analysis on defense contracts, the industrial base, and innovation programs. They found that between 2010 and 2019, the number of unique defense vendors had fallen from nearly 80,000 to just over 50,000 despite a 286 percent increase the the number of transactions. Even more precipitous was the decline of new entrants, falling from over 15,000 to nearly 4,000. During the episode we dive into the data and discuss: Whether DoD innovation programs are stovepiped How new entrants receive a small fraction of SBIR/STTR Phase I awards The opacity of Other Transactions data How companies market themselves to the agencies Strategies for improving new entrant transitions One of the recommendations Amanda and Alex float is to incentivize the government and prime contractors to allocate a percentage of their funding to "proven innovators." This sounds a lot like what Steve Blank recommended to me last month. The title "proven innovator" wouldn't be given to just any firm, but new entrants that have done business with defense in the past and have tested solutions to meet military requirements. In effect, it could be managed much like the set-aside programs for women-owned, HUBzone, and so forth. The Breslers have worked to close the information gap through their own work on a SBIR Phase II contract. Called Sheldon, the information system will bring together disparate sources to aid in market research. The need is great. They found nearly 50 percent of companies received zero or one follow-on contracts after SBIR/STTR, and just 3.5 percent of companies won a startling 80 percent of all follow-on contracts by value. This podcast was produced by Eric Lofgren. Soundtrack by urmymuse: "reflections of u". You can follow us on Twitter @AcqTalk and find more information at AcquisitionTalk.com.
How AFWERX transitions tech with Chris Benson, Steve Lauver, and Jason Rathje
Three of the co-founders of the Air Force Ventures program at AFWERX joined me on the Acquisition Talk podcast to discuss how they transition startups and new technologies across the valley of death and into major programs of record. While AFWERX is only approaching its third birthday, they've had some tremendous success. Over the past 18 months, they've contracted with 1,000 companies -- many of which were new to doing business with the DoD. They brought in over $1 billion in matching venture capital dollars in 2019, more than the past 15 years combined. And yet, one of the often head complaints is that the DoD spreads small dollars far-and-wide rather than making big bets on non-traditional firms. The process for changing that narrative was the focus of our conversation, including: - The Strategic Finance (STRATFI) program and "pitch-bowls" - How to create a vibrant industrial base without creating new defense primes - Reducing time to first program dollar from 6 years to a matter of months - Lofty goals of repeatedly creating new dual-use unicorns - How to line up funding that isn't tied to specific solutions or vendors A lot of people perhaps imagine the people at AFWERX having coffee on Sand Hill road with VCs and startups, but in reality almost all of their time is spent refining the back end of the acquisition process. For example, AFWERX worked with organic software developers at Hill Air Force Base to automate several parts of the contract administration process, so less time is spent copying information from PDFs. As a result, AFWERX has been able to reduce time to contract to about one month, a target many contracting offices have been unable to achieve. This podcast was produced by Eric Lofgren. Soundtrack by urmymuse: "reflections of u". You can follow us on Twitter @AcqTalk and find more information at AcquisitionTalk.com.
Revamping the way we think about defense with Steve Blank
Steve Blank joined me on the Acquisition Talk podcast to discuss the urgency of defense innovation in a world of authoritarian peer competitors. Steve is a serial entrepreneur, a founder of Hacking 4 Defense, a member of the Defense Business Board, a former Air Force officer, and a leader of the lean methodology movement. The conversation takes us to number of important areas, including: Why the Chinese couldn't have done more damage to national defense than the Pentagon's own requirements How agile programs like ABMS and Kessel Run are educating leadership Whether defense accelerators are merely doing "innovation theater" How no startup could afford to deal with the DoD without a fanatical billionaire How most people who think they're visionaries are actually hallucinating When Steve talks to defense staffers, they think "lean" refers to reducing headcount -- and therefore less budgets, jobs, and influence. He explains how that is exactly wrong -- lean is a completely different way of doing business that can be contrasted with the 20th century model defined by waterfall. The difference between lean or agile processes and waterfall is demarcated to some degree by a generational gap. The O-3s and E-3s and below seem to get it. The question is whether the leadership can get on-board before we reach a crisis point. Steve points to Chris Brose's new book as a wake up call that the United States might not win the next major war. While there are some hopeful signs that defense leaders are beginning to understand 21st century commercial business practices, he cautions how tacking small changes on a much larger system will not work. The entirety of defense acquisition needs to be revamped, including the industrial base. Existing prime contractors are essentially sheet-metal benders, Steve argues, and software-native firms would be able to out-compete them in hardware if given a fair chance. But many in the commercial sector think the $1 million SBIR grants given to startups where everyone's a winner without a path to transition into billion-dollar programs is deterimental. The goal isn't to show up on the field, Steve says, but to win the game. This podcast was produced by Eric Lofgren. Soundtrack by urmymuse: "reflections of u". You can follow us on Twitter @AcqTalk and find more information at AcquisitionTalk.com.
The legal side of procurement with Alexander Canizares
Alexander Canizares joined me on the Acquisition Talk podcast to discuss the legal side of the acquisition system. He is a senior counsel at Perkins-Coie, a lecturer at George Washington Law School, and a former trial attorney at the Department of Justice. Alex provides insights on a number of topics, including: Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) Whether an OTA contract can be protested Small businesses and the paycheck protection program What's new in pricing sole source contracts The Procurement Collusion Task Force This podcast was produced by Eric Lofgren. Soundtrack by urmymuse: "reflections of u". You can follow us on Twitter @AcqTalk and find more information at AcquisitionTalk.com.
Problem curation and lean methodology with Pete Newell
Pete Newell joined me on the Acquisition Talk podcast to discuss a range of issues around problem curation and lean methodology. He is the CEO of BMNT, a firm that helps clients build problem solving teams to address significant issues. He is also on the board of Hacking 4 Defense and is a former Colonel who led the Army's Rapid Equipping Force just prior to retiring. During the episode, we discuss a range of issues including: - How to build and maintain discipline through the innovation pipeline - Advice for business leaders in the Covid-19 crisis - How Hacking 4 Defense is developing a new generation of entrepreneurs - What it means to be disciplined in an agile/iterative environment - Ways large enterprises can break away from their self-sabotaging processes The episode features a host of lessons learned from Pete's years of experience transitioning technologies. During his time leading the Rapid Equipping Force, Pete was able to take a $150 million budget and build an investment portfolio more than five times that size through partnerships and other methods. Ultimately, the REF transitioned 170 programs into production during Pete's time there. Pete explains how the Pentagon has become quite good at opening the aperture for new companies and ideas to get small projects started. More work is needed, however, on giving companies showing success multi-year/multi-million dollar programs of record. One problem he points to is in the handoff phases through the innovation pipeline. He recommends thinking about: (1) how we move people through stages; (2) how contract language should change as projects mature; and (3) what sources of funding are available. Until the government is able to demonstrate more successful transitions, it won't impact the psyche of entrepreneurs and investors who still look upon public sector with suspicion. This podcast was produced by Eric Lofgren. Soundtrack by urmymuse: "reflections of u". You can follow us on Twitter @AcqTalk and find more information at AcquisitionTalk.com.
Defense management reform with Peter Levine
I was pleased to speak with Peter Levine on the Acquisition Talk podcast about his new book, Defense Management Reform: How to Make the Pentagon Work Better and Cost Less. He was a career professional staff member for Congress and former Deputy Chief Management Officer. During our wide-ranging conversation, we discuss: Why the DoD is more like an economy than a business The balance between experimentation and discipline Views on Middle-Tier and OTAs How budgets can be cherry-picked to meet a strategy The assertion of civilian control Peter argues that the 2009 Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act (WSARA) should be viewed as a huge success on its own terms. The 1990s emphasis on deregulation and commercial item contracting was extremely important for less complex procurement, but created problems for major programs. Too often major programs were initiated without buying down sufficient technical risk through experimentation and analysis. This led to a great deal of cost growth in the 2000s. By adding discipline, such as raising the status of independent cost estimates, programs started after WSARA have shown far greater stability and less cost growth. But there are no silver bullets, Peter reminds us. The valid criticism of WSARA is that it brought stability at the expense of innovation. This directly led into the 2015-present reforms re-emphasizing rapid acquisition, iterative development, and commercial procedures. These concepts are not new, and while they may apply well to software efforts, they does not obviate the need for cost, schedule, and technical baselines ahead of Milestone B. This podcast was produced by Eric Lofgren. Soundtrack by urmymuse: "reflections of u". You can follow us on Twitter @AcqTalk and find more information at AcquisitionTalk.com.
The future of Navy software development with Lt. Sean Lavelle
I was pleased to speak with Navy Lieutenant Sean Lavelle. He is the founder and lead of the iLoc development team, which rapidly deploys valuable software capabilities to the Navy's P-8 fleet. During the episode, Sean describes how P-8 aviators took it upon themselves to code new applications that could solve hard problems with software rather than pencil and paper. One application reduced reporting errors by 90 percent. Sean provides a compelling vision of the future where operators also take on duties as software developers or product managers. This doesn't require everyone to have coding skills. The P-8A's organic software team only has six rotating developers. Sean argues it is better to have many users involved in defining the business logic with a small team of software developers rather than a large software team with little access to user input. The result is a continuous process where knowledge from the military operators can quickly get embodied in software and deployed to the entire fleet. Sean calls this "software-defined tactics," and it's a compelling concept indeed. One of the many benefits is that it decreases the burden of training as operators are constantly involved in small changes. This is in contrast to the large and infrequent software drops from contractors, where increased capability often comes at the expense of increased complexity. It takes 3 or 4 years, for example, to train a P-8 tactical coordinator. Agile in-house software development vastly decreases complexity at the same time in generates new capabilities, allowing the US military to scale much more rapidly in the event of conflict with a great power. It is difficult to excerpt the wisdom of Lt. Sean Lavelle, a truly remarkable young man, so listen to the whole thing! This podcast was produced by Eric Lofgren. Soundtrack by urmymuse: "reflections of u". You can follow us on Twitter @AcqTalk and find more information at AcquisitionTalk.com.