WASHINGTON — During a forum to present capability needs to industry, U.S. Cyber Command leaders gave their take on how the operation has improved its acquisition practices and structures over the last few years.
Cyber Command, still relatively young and continuing to mature in many ways, received limited acquisition authority just five years ago.
Congress capped the command’s buying power at $75 million, under a so-called crawl, walk, run approach to determine whether the command could execute the authority.
In the last annual defense policy law, Congress lifted that cap, and the command is hopeful it can mature further to procure necessary capabilities in a dynamic environment.
“We also wanted to request that we eliminate the procurement ceiling all together so the command has the flexibility and the agility to respond to the procurement needs the command has based on the operational requirement,” Sharothi Pikar, command acquisition executive told over 300 attendees at the Cyber Command virtual industry forum July 27. “For example, in 2020, when we [were] supporting the defending of the election ... we were able to get after our needs and requirements in an agile fashion without having to worry about if we’re by mistake going over our ceiling that the Congress has given us.”
Other officials said removing this cap will allow Cyber Command to perform its own work on contracts and conduct more creative acquisition strategies, rather than having to piggyback on the contract vehicles of other agencies across the government, which is how the command currently operates.
Officials explained that the industry forum provides a venue for the command to forecast to industry what it needs and provide an open dialogue to encourage greater competition among a vast network of partners from larger companies to small businesses.
“We have a strong partnership already, but we want to make sure that we’re forward and out with what we need and getting the best tools and capabilities for the war fighter [and] also to grow our small businesses, and also we want to make sure that we are increasing competition for coming acquisitions,” Quentin McCoy, head of contracting activities at Cyber Command, told reporters. “That really is the reason why we’re here today is to talk about those command dollars that are being procured internally and to make sure industry understands what those programs are and how we can better partner to execute those programs successfully.”
Cyber Command recently created a new Program Executive Office Cyber within its J9, or advanced concepts and technology directorate, which oversees programs using command dollars.
This includes the money that Cyber Command has for command-specific programs of record, to support ongoing operations, and for capabilities for the cyber national mission force, which is responsible for tracking and disrupting specific nation-state actors in foreign cyberspace in defense of the nation. That force is separate from teams that support specific combatant commands. The command funds and the PEO are not associated with the programs that service executive agents procure as part of the Joint Cyber Warfighting Architecture, which was created in 2019 to better align the commands’ programs and resources.
The new PEO has close contact with the Joint Cyber Warfighting Architecture Joint Integration Office, which helps coordinate how the individual services work together on their specific programs, to help ensure integrated solutions without duplication.
Officials noted that they don’t see the executive agents going away in the future, noting they don’t see the need to replace that mechanism, but the creation of the PEO signifies an ability to execute larger efforts.
“Prior to being called the PEO, this was a division that was doing program management on a fairly small scale,” Lisa Wheeler, acting PEO Cyber, told reporters. “At becoming the PEO and now looking at where we’re headed, what I see the division doing is establishing program management offices against programs of larger scale … Instead of just running a set of programs on a smaller scale, we’ll be able to take on maybe larger efforts but then in no way, shape or form will be replacing, say, the Air Force in doing what they do for the cyber world.”
For the industry formum, Cyber Command highlighted primary mission areas it has carved out for acquisition management:
- The aforementioned PEO Cyber.
- The aforementioned Joint Cyber Warfighting Architecture Integration Office.
- A rapid development and innovation division that works on organic tool and capability development for the cyber mission force but primarily the cyber national mission force.
- A cyber procurement office responsible for organic procurement and overseeing contracts or agreements entered into with other agencies.
- A business operations and analysis division, created to fill a gap the command lacked in providing needed support to the whole community. A key accomplishment of the office in the last year was the creation of a tool to allow officials to track items they’re working on in an automated fashion, including data that feeds into future spending plans.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.