Whether you acknowledge it or not, all roads in the emerging technology race lead to contracts. Unfortunately, federal contracting is lengthy, overly burdensome and rigid. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Disrupting traditional federal contracting is critical to advancing rapid acquisition, but it is only one step of many needed in order to forge a new path for the Department of Defense. Several leaders across the DoD have publicly displayed their frustrations over the federal acquisition malaise. Nicolas Chaillan is most notable for having “dropped the mic” as he left his position as the Air Force chief software officer, criticizing the military for refusing to advance IT modernization and agile acquisition.
The resignation of Defense Innovation Unit chief Michael Brown earlier this year is another reminder of how the DoD is slow to transform its technology acquisition processes. His chief complaint was the lack of support from the Pentagon when bridging the gap between the department and commercial technology.
Clearly, there’s an issue that even some top DoD leaders can’t ignore. I strongly suspect there’s a growing consensus among some of the rank and file across the DoD that something has to give. But the real question remains: As an organization, are we willing to let go of the culture and policies that stifle significant progress in advancing military capability, or will we continue to fall behind the rest of the world?
Resistance to change in the DoD is not new and has been an ongoing conversation for years. In 2017, Jeffrey Bialos, a former deputy undersecretary of defense for industrial affairs, published a report calling out the DoD’s “cultural resistance to disruptive change.” Yet, here we are five years later, still waiting for the tipping point. Why aren’t we seeing the results most agree are needed to advance commercial technology in the DoD?
We all know the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. We have to be willing to let go of the things that created the DoD of today in order to make way for a better DoD tomorrow. If we want to rapidly secure the absolute best technology so that we can earnestly compete with our adversaries, then we have to do something differently. It’s just that simple.
This is my open call to the pioneers and visionaries left in the government:
Where are my people who are willing to let go of cybersecurity policies that shut out technology innovation for the sake of a “no-risk” authority to operate? Who dares to let go of intellectual property positions that conflict with the privately developed commercial solutions we need? Who is willing to let go of whatever boxes we think we need to check in order to comply with a policy no one even understands?
Tradewind, housed in the DoD’s Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office, is an attempt to clear a way out of the bureaucratic contracting labyrinth. Tradewind showcases a suite of tools and services that aim to accelerate the procurement and adoption of bleeding-edge solutions. Look more closely and you’ll realize Tradewind is more than that: It’s a movement to take intentional action that drives not only the procurement and acquisition of leading-edge technology, but also the cultural change the DoD so desperately needs.
The Tradewind Solutions Marketplace, one of the tools in Tradewind’s suite, is our premiere service offering. It enables industry innovators to quickly and easily get their solutions in front of eager government buyers.
All the time-consuming, cumbersome barriers to entry have been removed; industry simply submits a brief video that describes their solution and its potential application to DoD problem sets. A team of technology subject matter experts will assess each solution for technical merit to address a DoD problem. All solutions placed in the marketplace are available for award.
For government, this means a searchable inventory of potential technology solutions that have met competition standards for Federal Acquisition Regulation and non-FAR based contracting methodologies. No more time spent in source selections and downselects — just find a solution and buy it.
Simple. Logical. Quick. This is how it should be. We don’t have time for anything else.
A very smart person told me that disruption — technological disruption or otherwise — is not bad. It’s a sign that people love and care about the organization so much that they want to see it live on. The DoD is very capable of cultural change. We just have to be brave enough to let go so we have the chance to ascend. If not, we will continue to fall, and that will hurt all of us.
Bonnie Evangelista is the Tradewind execution lead within the U.S. Defense Department’s Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office.