Section 809 Panel—what’s it all about?

U.S. Government rules and regulationsExciting, yet highly challenging things are happening in defense acquisition. Established by the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the objective of the Section 809 Panel is to streamline and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the defense acquisition process and to help our military maintain a technological advantage.

The Section 809 Panel is supported by Defense Acquisition University (DAU) and National Defense University (NDU), and comprises 18 recognized experts in acquisition and procurement policy. Led by Panel Chair Deidre Lee, former Administrator for the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), the committee includes current and former DoD acquisition personnel; industry leaders who bring perspectives from GSA, the Procurement Round Table, National Contract Management Association (NCMA), and small and large defense contactors; and experts in legal, policy, strategic, financial, and other aspects of procurement.

The panel’s charter is to:

  • Review DoD acquisition regulations with a view toward streamlining and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the defense acquisition process and maintaining defense technology advantage;
  • Establish and administer appropriate buyer and seller relationships in the procurement system;
  • Improve the functioning of the acquisition system;
  • Ensure continuing financial and ethical integrity of defense procurement programs;
  • Protect the best interests of DoD; and
  • Eliminate regulations that are unnecessary for the purposes described.

As Dee Lee stated in an interview on The Bridge, the panel has been asked to address the question: “Can DoD buy what the warfighters need in a timely fashion, particularly cutting edge and emerging technology?”

The interim report by the panel delivered to the Committee on Armed Services on May 17, 2017 acknowledges that procurement reform studies have been performed at least 100 times in the past 50 years. So, what is different this time? Today, there is real eagerness and willingness to work together by Congress. They recognize that the geopolitical climate is changing, and our dominance as a world leader is threatened by the emergence of peer competition from countries like China.

The United States is falling behind the times, and our procurement system takes too long, discourages participation from industry, and fails to attract and retain a workforce that is willing to work in a highly scrutinized, controlled, and retribution-based procurement system. Risk-averse attitudes prevail within both industry and DoD. Fear of doing business with the government means that innovation is missed, and fear by DoD procurement personnel is caused by a system laden with layers of signoff, tons of paperwork, and hundreds of regulations that bog down the process and increase fear of failure. The focus has become doing things right, rather than doing the right things. As a result, innovation and access to the best technologies, solutions, and individuals that industry offers are missed.

The panel is going bold to address these challenges. They are looking past how it has always been done to see how things can be done. They have adopted four tenets:

  1. Mission first. Shift the focus to mission versus on competing public policies.
  2. Simplify. The procurement process is too complicated.
  3. Value time. It takes too long.
  4. Decriminalize commerce. Eliminate the perception that government leaders are doing something nefarious. Empower the workforce. Take risks and allow honest mistakes.

The panel is looking deeply into not only what the impediments to effective procurement are, but also at the origins of those impediments. For example, what complexities can be eliminated from buying? What FAR/DFAR clauses are ineffective, burdensome, or unnecessary today? What are the legislative roots behind those clauses? The panel’s recommendations will include suggested changes to both legislative and FAR language that affects both DoD and government-wide procurement effectiveness.

Additional questions the panel is exploring appear in the Panel’s Interim Report. For example:

  • What are the characteristics that make programs successful, and how can these best practices be replicated?
  • What barriers discourage new ideas and discourage new entrants from transacting with DoD?
  • How does DoD better access the commercial market as a savvy buyer?
  • How well does the protest process serve government and industry?
  • What is the role of small business, and what is the most effective way to support small businesses in the United States?
  • What data are needed, what are collected, and how are they used?
  • Which oversight/approval requirements bring value, and which take away value?
  • How can DoD accelerate decision‐making to buy quicker?

Another voice that will be heard by the Section 809 Panel is that of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP). APMP will discuss the panel’s work at its annual Bid & Proposal Con, scheduled for June 12–15 in New Orleans. APMP brings the perspective of:

  • Those involved day-to-day with the challenges faced by industry in responding to DoD and federal RFPs/RFQs/RFIs
  • Those supporting bid/no-bid decisions made by industries and organizations whose goods and services can directly further the government’s mission-support initiatives
  • Those who become entangled in responding to often confusing, disconnected, and outdated solicitation requirements; and
  • Those willing to play the game of doing business with the Federal Government and facing price-competitive and blocked-conversation challenges.

Watch for more information on this topic as the Section 809 Panel continues its work and as APMP explores these issues.

by Maryann Lesnick, CP.APMP, PMP. Maryann is a Managing Director with Lohfeld Consulting Group. She is an ACT-IAC Fellow and serves on the Board of Directors of APMP and its National Capital Area chapter (APMP-NCA). She currently works as a proposal manager with companies in the Washington, DC area that are pursuing opportunities with DoD and the Federal Government.

Connect with Maryann on LinkedIn.

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Lohfeld Consulting