Amid frustration with the notoriously slow procurement system, the Air Force created a new office to evaluate and oversee how it buys technology. And ‘colorless money’ is among the concepts being floated by its new chief.
IT purchases have been a thorn in the side of the services, as industry moves much faster than the typical pace of the acquisition cycle. With that in mind, the service decided to stand up an Information Technology Acquisition Process Development office within the office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force.
The move, which is a clear expression of dissatisfaction from the secretary and chief of staff, stems from a process that typically takes eight to 10 years from initial request for proposals to fielding of a system that will likely be very expensive and might no longer reflect the threat picture, said Maj. Gen. Sarah Zabel, the office’s director.
The job was specifically created for her.
Zabel, speaking at a conference hosted by Defense Systems in Arlington Nov. 14, said her role is to look at the whole process to identify how the Air Force can spend less time getting necessary capabilities to the field. It’s not the rules and regulations that are so easy to decry, she said; rather, “in so many ways the rules don’t bind us as much as the habits that people have.”
One aspirational plan Zabel explained is the notion of colorless money. Under current law the military has certain pots or buckets of funds to use for specifically defined things to include procurement; research, development, test and evaluation; and operations and maintenance.
The law is very strict when it comes to how these funds are used and the process of notifying Congress can be very intensive if a service wishes to switch funds slated under a certain bucket.
“Colorless money would be a great advantage to steer the funds and the efforts to what is the opportunity at the time, not what was the opportunity four years ago when you started asking for your money,” she said.