United States: 2018 NDAA Analysis: Acquisition Workforce Improvements

Elizabeth Jochum and Amy Fuentes are Associates in Holland & Knight's Tysons office

This is the sixth blog post in a series of blogs analyzing the current draft of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as agreed-to by House and Senate negotiators on November 8, 2017. Stay tuned for additional blog posts covering additional topics in the near future from Holland & Knight's Government Contracts Team.

The conference version of the 2018 NDAA (H.R. 2810) contains a number of acquisition-workforce related provisions, discussed below.

Enhancements to the Civilian Program Management Workforce: Section 841

NDAA Section 841 would establish a Program Manager Development Program for civilian Defense Department and military department personnel. Individuals with "high potential" and experience will be competitively selected for the program based on their potential to become a program manager of a "major defense acquisition program," and will be temporarily assigned to developmental rotations and/or training programs for at least six months.

The Act provides for the development of a comprehensive plan to implement the program, with implementation no earlier than September 30, 2019. It also calls for an independent study of incentives for program managers, including the possibility of a financial incentive structure to reward program managers for delivering capabilities on budget and on time.

Improvements to the Hiring and Training of the Acquisition Workforce: Section 843

The NDAA also calls for the Comptroller General to submit to the congressional defense committees a report on the effectiveness of hiring and retention flexibilities for the acquisition workforce. The report, due not later than June 30, 2019, shall, among other things, determine the extent to with DoD experiences challenges with recruitment and retention of the acquisition workforce, such as post-employment restrictions, and recommend any necessary changes to the hiring and retention flexibilities available to DoD to fill civilian acquisition positions. The report would also address the flexibilities available to the Department to remove underperforming members of the acquisition workforce and the extent to which any such flexibilities are used.

In a separate endeavor, the Comptroller General is also to report on the acquisition-related training available for personnel working on procurements but not considered to be part of the acquisition workforce. The study would address the extent to which non-acquisition personnel play a significant role in defining requirements, conducting market research, participating in source selection and contract negotiation efforts, and overseeing contract performance, and the training available to or needed for them.

Several provisions of the NDAA 2018 focus on improving agencies' understanding of today's evolving technological market and increasing acquisition efficiency by developing best practices standards. A few of these provisions are discussed briefly below.

Procurement Administrative Lead Time: Section 886

NDAA Section 886 would require DoD to develop and implement a "Procurement Administrative Lead Time" or PALT across the agency.

If passed, DoD would use PALT as a guideline for the time between when a solicitation is issued to the date of the initial award of a contract or task order. The provision also requires DoD to publicly report data on PALT for DoD contracts and task orders above the simplified acquisition threshold – which the NDAA would increase to $250,000 (up from the current $150,000 simplified acquisition threshold). PALT would serve as an agency-wide established goal for DoD, and would likely be based on dollar value and acquisition complexity.

DoD establishing a PALT, and even reducing acquisition lead time when possible, is critical to ensuring the agency is following established best practices – and properly utilizing agency resources. Prioritizing adherence to PALT can result in more efficient awards and the timely procurement of services, goods, and solutions in support of agency missions. Reducing procurement timeframes may also encourage companies to jump into the DoD market and improve competition.

Training on Agile or Iterative Development Methods: Section 891

Section 891 of the 2018 NDAA requires DoD to establish and implement training courses for personnel implementing and supporting the pilot programs required by Sections 873 and 874. Section 891 mandates that training courses be established by DoD through the Defense Acquisition University, and requires the training to be mandatory for personnel participating in the pilot programs established by Sections 873 and 874.

Section 873 requires DoD to create a pilot program to simplify the software development for major software-intensive warfighting and defense business systems, while Section 874 calls for the creation of four to eight software pilot programs to be developed using agile or iterative acquisition methods. DoD is to select participants for this pilot program from existing procurements. Both Sections 873 and 874 focus on congressional concern that DoD "is behind other federal agencies and industry in implementing best practices for acquisition of software and information technologies." These pilot programs will impact some current DoD contracts.

Implementation of these pilot programs is an important step in DoD creating an acquisition framework for information technology that can adapt to the ever-evolving technological landscape of today's procurement market, national security concerns, and agency missions.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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