Washington Pulse

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Quest for Innovation Prompts 'Acquisition Challenge'

A $12-million weapon-modernization program sponsored by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif, seeks ideas from contractors on how to improve existing weapons systems. The so-called "Defense Acquisition Challenge" got underway in March.

In charge of the Defense Acquisition Challenge is a new organization called Office of Comparative Testing, which used to be known as the Pentagon's Office of Foreign Comparative Testing. The word "foreign" no longer is part of the organizations name, because future tests will involve both domestic and non-U.S. competitors.

While Congress allocated $12 million for the Defense Acquisition Challenge in fiscal year 2003, Hunter--chairman of the House Armed Services Committee-would like to see the program continue through 2007. According to the legislation he sponsored, the Defense Acquisition Challenge "shall provide any person or activity within or outside the Department of Defense with the opportunity to propose alternatives, to be known as challenge proposals, at the component, subsystem, or system level of an existing Department of Defense acquisition program that would result in improvements in performance, affordability, manufacturability or operational capability."

Simply stated, the money will be used to "encourage innovative technology insertion," said Air Force Col. Linda Palmer, the director of the CTO.

The acquisition challenge is "wide open" to ideas from industry, she told National Defense. But these ideas must apply to current acquisition programs. The CTO released a "broad area announcement" in March, soliciting proposals. The Defense Acquisition Challenge "will be a way for people to propose ideas on how a system can be upgraded," she said. The funds will pay for the evaluation of those ideas.

The CTO office reports to the Pentagon's advanced systems and concepts directorate, run by Sue Payton.

Palmer said she expects that Hunter closely will monitor the progress of the Defense Acquisition Challenge.

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