It Is Not All Bad News in the Defense Acquisition World

By Geiss, Don; Melita, Tony | National Defense, August 2013 | Go to article overview

It Is Not All Bad News in the Defense Acquisition World


Geiss, Don, Melita, Tony, National Defense


There are many reasons why defense acquisition has received a bad rap and why lawmakers and Pentagon leaders have been trying to reform the acquisition process for more than 30 years.

The problems are well known. It takes too long to develop and field new technology within the constraints of federal acquisition regulations.

There are cases, however, when defense acquisitions can work effectively.

Examples of successful defense acquisitions can be found in the Defense Department's Ordnance Technology Consortium, known as DOTC. It was chartered in 2002 by the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics as a procurement reform initiative that is designed to preserve and advance the U.S. ordnance technology base.

DOTC facilitates collaboration, technology development and prototyping among U.S. industry, academia and the Defense Department's ordnance community. This arrangement is legally supported by Section 845 prototype "other transaction agreement." OTA is administered by the Army at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., through a government-staffed DOTC program office.

Representatives from industry and academia participate through the National Warheads and Energetics Consortium, which currently has more than 220 members who individually, or in teaming arrangements, collaborate with government and then compete for technology development and prototyping awards through the OTA.

The OTA requires that all awards include a one-third cost share by industry or a significant contribution by a non-traditional defense contractor. This requirement motivates traditional defense contractors to seek innovative ideas from non-traditional firms, which are defined as those having less than $500,000 in federal acquisition contracts in the past 12 months. Non-traditional contractors are most often small businesses. Their involvement provides a new pool of innovation.

Approximately 22 percent of NWEC members are non-traditional defense contractors. The OTA is available for use by all service laboratories, agencies and Defense Department program offices. Current customers are primarily service ordnance laboratories, program executive offices, U.S. Special Operations Command, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

DOTC categorizes the ordnance technologies into nine focus areas: warheads, explosives, propellants, pyrotechnics, fuzes/sensors, protection and survivability, enabling technologies, joint insensitive munitions and demilitarization.

The consortium is a non-profit, self-sustaining business enterprise. The program office operates with a staff of five full-time employees as well as support from one contracting officer and one specialist from the Army Acquisition Center. As of the end of May, the DOTC program office was executing 183 initiatives--including technology development and prototyping projects--with a value of $450 million.

The OTA is executed with the National Warheads and Energetics Consortium using a consortium management firm which provides a single point of entry for the government in its relationship with the NWEC members. A 5 percent fee is charged to all DOTC customers. This fee covers operating expenses. The consortium has an 18-member government and industry executive committee that functions like a board of directors. The executive committee meets semi-annually to track, oversee and advise the program office on business operations and processes, not the individual initiatives and technology projects. Additionally, the executive committee has monthly conference calls with the program office to review the status of operations.

So what makes DOTC different? A key characteristic is that it fosters collaboration up front in the technology planning process. Government and industry representatives collect and discuss munitions technology challenges and requirements in advance of funding and need. …

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