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The Acquisition Research Program publishes a weekly email newsletter, Need to Know, in which we highlight key developments in acquisition, policy, government innovation, and research—as well as the latest news about ARP events and research. We hope you enjoy the newsletter, and let us know if you are doing work we can highlight in future issues. 

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Newsletter 9.25.2020

September 25, 2020                                                                                                   Issue 25

This week, the House passed its continuing resolution bill; the Senate takes it up next week; and congressional business has slowed amid tensions over appointing the next Supreme Court justice. FY2021 may be off to a rocky start. The Air Force has detailed the impact a continuing resolution will have on Air Force and Space Force acquisitions and personnel. In other news, DoD is getting heat for how it has disbursed CARES Act funds. And it’s looking like the Future Navy Force Study will recommend substantial growth in numbers and capabilities, adding over 100 unmanned ships to the originally predicted target of 355 ships. Happy Friday, and cheers to the end of FY2020!


ARP Research: Symposium Spotlight

Panel #24: Industrial Base in the Era of Rapid Acquisition

Industrial Mobilization: Surge Capabilities, Wartime Risk, and System Brittleness
Mark Cancian (Center for Strategic and International Studies)

  • Micro-abstract: These findings indicate that existing surge capacities for major defense acquisition programs fall short of what will be needed for a long-duration great power conflict.  Read the paper and presentation.        

The Effect of Defense-Sponsored Innovation Programs on the Military’s Industrial Base​
Amanda Bresler (PW Communications), Alex Bresler (PW Communications)

  • Micro-abstract: By analyzing publicly-available DoD contract award data from 2010 through 2019 and government records for thousands of participants in DoD innovation initiatives, this paper demonstrates that the majority of companies that participated in innovation initiatives over the last decade had existing ties to the defense market. Read the paper and presentation.

See more research in the full Proceedings of the 17th Annual Acquisition Research Symposium.


This Week’s Top Story

Here’s How a Three-Month CR—or Longer—Would Affect the Air Force
Rachel S. Cohen, Air Force Magazine

As Congress looks to delay passage of a new federal funding package until after the November election, the Air Force is warning that even a three-month gap would harm national defense.

“[Continuing resolutions] immediately disrupt major exercises and training events, affect readiness and maintenance, curtail hiring and recruitment actions, and adversely impact contracting negotiations,” Air Force spokesman Capt. Jacob N. Bailey said in a Sept. 24 email.

A stopgap spending bill would also slow the service’s adoption of technology it wants to compete with other advanced militaries like those of Russia and China.

As the start of fiscal 2021 looms on Oct. 1, the wheels are already turning to get a continuing resolution in place to avoid a government shutdown. CRs have been invoked nearly every year for the past few decades, causing heartburn across the federal workforce.

House lawmakers on Sept. 22 passed a bill to keep the federal government open through Dec. 11. The Senate could hold a vote on that legislation next week, according to Politico. Congress may decide later to extend the funding freeze into 2021, and pass appropriations at the beginning of a possible second term for President Donald J. Trump or to kick off a first term for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden.

The Department of the Air Force wants about $169 billion in fiscal 2021, split between $153.6 billion for the Air Force and $15.4 billion for the Space Force. Under a CR, though, federal agencies must stretch their 2020 dollars until they run out. Congress can also make exceptions to let certain programs move forward.

A yearlong continuing resolution would block 48 new programs from starting, cut short production increases to seven aircraft and weapons, stop 19 military construction projects, stifle the service’s response and recovery efforts for the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and limit the Air Force’s plan to grow its workforce by 1,500 people.

Read more.


ARP and NPS News

Measuring Service Contract Performance
Andrew P. Hunter and Gregory Sanders, Center for Strategic & International Studies

This research on the complexity of DoD’s services contracting began with the support of an ARP-administered grant. We’re pleased to see the final paper getting published at CSIS. Note there will be a live panel discussion (listed in our Events section) informed by these findings on October 1.

OFPP Administrator Michael Wooten’s Past Life as a Scholar and NPS Student
Michelle V. J. Johnson, ARP Blog


Acquisition and Innovation

DOD’s push for innovative, agile purchasing codified in adaptive acquisition policy
Jackson Barnett, Fedscoop

Space Force, DoD agencies, NRO try to get on the same page on future acquisitions
Sandra Erwin, Space News

CMMC rule change is through the interagency review process
Jackson Barnett, Fedscoop

DOD floats plan to build its own 5G network
Lauren C. Williams, Fedscoop

DoD to Award Grants to Bolster National Security Industrial Base
Matthew Nelson, ExecutiveGov

AIA’s Fanning: Civil aviation’s nosedive endangers Pentagon supplies
Joe Gould, Defense News

Picking 1st ABMS Capabilities A Top Issue At Air Force Corona
Theresa Hitchens, Breaking Defense

U.S. eyes December agreement on F-35 jets with UAE
Mike Stone, Reuters

VIEWPOINT: Acquisition Reform Requires Cultural Change
John Kovach and Artie Mabbett, National Defense



GovDATAx 2020 | Leveraging Data for the Public Good
Sep 29-30, 2020  |  1:00 p.m. ET

Modernization and Policy Priorities for 2030 with Michele Flournoy
Defense News
Sep 30, 2020  | 11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. ET

Note that Flournoy has been speculated to be Biden’s pick for Secretary of Defense, should he win November’s election.

Hearing: Supply Chain Integrity – with Ellen Lord
Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support
Oct 1, 2020  |  9:15 a.m. ET

Department of Defense’s Service Industrial Base
Center for Strategic & International Studies
Oct 1, 2020  |  2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. ET

Government Contracting in a Changed World
George Mason University Center for Government Contracting and Defense Acquisition University
October 6, 2020  |  8:00 a.m. – 12:45 p.m. ET


VA ACQUISITION MANAGEMENT: COVID-19 Response Strains Supply Chain While Modernization Delays Continue
U.S. Government Accountability Office

MITRE Establishes Center for Data-Driven Policy
MITRE Press Release

CNAS Launches Major Effort on U.S. National Technology Strategy
Center for a New American Security


COVID-19 and Contracting

Pentagon used taxpayer money meant for masks and swabs to make jet engine parts and body armor
Aaron Gregg and Yeganeh Torbati, The Washington Post

Gearing up for great power competition also helped the Air Force prepare for COVID-19
Jared Serbu, Federal News Network

Pentagon rewriting pandemic playbook after study faults Covid-19 response
Lara Seligman, Politico

Ellen Lord Discusses Impact of COVID-19 on Federal Modernization
Sarah Sybert, ExecutiveGov 


Defense and Federal Government

The Pentagon is eyeing a 500-ship Navy, documents reveal
David B. Lartner and Aaron Mehta

‘Reshape from within’: How Berger plans to transform the Corps without a budget increase
Philip Athey, Marine Times

CIA launches federal lab to support innovative intelligence breakthroughs
Billy Mitchell, FedScoop

Navy Using New Working Groups to Problem Solve Sustainment Issues
Mallory Shelbourne, USNI News

Hyten to issue new joint requirements on handling data
Aaron Mehta, Defense News

Brown Talks Force Structure, NGAD Records, and the Looming CR
John A. Tirpak, Air Force Magazine



Pentagon awards $50M to historically black colleges for scientific research
Rob Crilly, Washington Examiner



Conformance of the Cost Accounting Standards to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles for Capitalization of Tangible Assets and Accounting for Acquisition Costs of Material
Federal Register

FAR Class Deviation - Enhancing Competition at the Order level for Certain Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity Multiple-Award Contracts
U.S. General Services Administration

Memorandum for the Acquisition Workforce on AFWERX
Will Roper



House Passes Short-Term Spending Bill to Keep Government Funded Through Dec. 11
Kristina Peterson and Lindsay Wise, The Wall Street Journal

Funding patch would avert shutdown through Dec. 11, fund Navy’s Columbia program
Joe Gould, Defense News

Senate to push funding bill vote up against shutdown deadline
Jordain Carney, The Hill

Select Committee Passes Final Round of Recommendations to Make Congress Work Better for the American People
Select Committee for the Modernization of Congress Press Release

Thornberry on overseas priorities, funding and advice to his successor
Joe Gould, Defense News

HASC Schedule: September 28 – October 2
House Armed Services Committee


Section 809 Panel in the News

Former Mitre Exec [and Section 809 Commissioner] William LaPlante Named Draper President, CEO
Jane Edwards, GovCon Wire


Acquisition Tips and Tools, with Larry Asch

The Federal Acquisition Regulation Promotes Innovation. Really.

As I reviewed the recent changes to the fundamental document for Defense Acquisition System the DoDD 5000.01, it made me think about the fundamental principles for the federal acquisition system and how often it has helped teams. 

The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) is not as prohibitive as many believe. If something is not specifically addressed by the FAR, it does not automatically mean it is prohibited. Quite the opposite.

In exercising initiative, Government members of the Acquisition Team may assume if a specific strategy, practice, policy or procedure is in the best interests of the Government and is not addressed in the FAR, nor prohibited by law (statute or case law), executive order or other regulation, that the strategy, practice, policy or procedure is a permissible exercise of authority. (FAR 1.102(d))

In this manner, the FAR actually advocates for procurement innovation — stressing it as a “guiding principle” for government procurement. These words have “reached a near-legendary status in the contracting community.” Dr. Steve Kelman, who “played a fairly important role in getting this language into the regulations,” explains in a 2014 column that this language was added in the early 1990s when “there were demands to essentially jettison the FAR entirely and replace it with 10 pages or so of guidance.” Instead, his team drafted FAR 1.102(d) to empower the acquisition team to venture outside the regulations when called for.

Some acquisition professionals may wonder how they are supposed to know what’s been prohibited when there are so many places to look. The answer is that no single person can know it all, but a collaborative Multi-functional Integrated Project Team (IPT) can. IPTs have been common since the 1990s, with each member of the IPT bringing their own expertise on relevant laws, regulations, and policies. Members include the program management office, logisticians, cyber, engineers, contracting, legal, and program analysts.

FAR 1.102(d) specifically states that “The role of each member of the Acquisition Team is to exercise personal initiative and sound business judgment in providing the best value product or service to meet the customer’s needs.”

Keep in mind these critical points from FAR 1.102:

  • Innovation is procurement policy.
  • Both the government and the contractor share responsibility for innovation.
  • The correct question to ask in carrying out the FAR’s innovation policy is: “Where does it say we can’t do it?” Note: When it says we can’t do that and the prohibition is not based in law, don’t forget FAR Deviation 1.401.
  • The contracting officer should take the lead in innovation.

Please take a few minutes to read and truly understand the FAR Statement of guiding principles for the Federal Acquisition System.  Over my career, documents like this have greatly helped to influence the course of an acquisition outcome. After all, it is hard for the frozen middle and naysayers to argue when clear operating principles are coming from top leadership.

FAR 1.102 Statement of guiding principles for the Federal Acquisition System

      (a) The vision for the Federal Acquisition System is to deliver on a timely basis the best value product or service to the customer, while maintaining the public’s trust and fulfilling public policy objectives. Participants in the acquisition process should work together as a team and should be empowered to make decisions within their area of responsibility.

      (b) The Federal Acquisition System will-

           (1) Satisfy the customer in terms of cost, quality, and timeliness of the delivered product or service by, for example-

                (i) Maximizing the use of commercial products and services;

                (ii) Using contractors who have a track record of successful past performance or who demonstrate a current superior ability to perform; and

                (iii) Promoting competition;

           (2) Minimize administrative operating costs;

           (3) Conduct business with integrity, fairness, and openness; and

           (4) Fulfill public policy objectives.

      (c) The Acquisition Team consists of all participants in Government acquisition including not only representatives of the technical, supply, and procurement communities but also the customers they serve, and the contractors who provide the products and services.

      (d) The role of each member of the Acquisition Team is to exercise personal initiative and sound business judgment in providing the best value product or service to meet the customer’s needs. In exercising initiative, Government members of the Acquisition Team may assume if a specific strategy, practice, policy or procedure is in the best interests of the Government and is not addressed in the FAR, nor prohibited by law (statute or case law), Executive order or other regulation, that the strategy, practice, policy or procedure is a permissible exercise of authority.