CONTEXT FOR THE WORKSHOP
The ability to be a “smart buyer” is dependent on unrestricted access to and understanding of a program’s technical baseline combined with a science and engineering workforce that has the “know-how”—that is, knowledge, skills, and abilities—to ensure program success. 1,2 A number of observers have argued that for years, beginning in the mid-1990s, the U.S. Air Force ceded control, active oversight, and in-depth understanding of the technical baselines for weapon systems to defense prime contractors with negative consequences that included (1) loss of ability to perform independent technical analysis, (2) loss of ability to validate defense contractor technical decisions and conclusions, (3) atrophy of the engineering workforce competency, (4) decrease in the ability to attract and retain top engineering talent due to hands-off engineering, (5) decreased ability to control costs, and (6) a reluctance by industry to share detailed, proprietary technical data for fear of transfer to competitors. In addition, others have asserted that pressures imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-25, also referred to as sequestration) will exacerbate these challenges in the coming years, which will necessitate multifaceted and concerted efforts by the Air Force and Department of Defense (DoD) to look for efficiencies while simultaneously increasing effectiveness. The Better Buying Power initiatives—launched by the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics in 2010, along with earlier provisions under the Weapon System Acquisition Reform Act and the Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act, to improve DoD’s ability to technically manage complex weapon systems throughout their life cycle in collaboration with industry contractors—are intended to address these goals.3,4 The question is, what is the appropriate balance between the notion of government as system integrator on one extreme and the total system performance responsibility approach—in which government’s role in the management of the system is minimized—on the other?
1 The Air Force defines technical baseline as “Data and information that provides the program office knowledge to establish, trade-off, verify, change, accept, and sustain functional capabilities, design characteristics, affordability, schedule, and quantified performance parameters at the chosen level of the system hierarchy.” Ownership of the technical baseline is defined as “The government applies technical baseline knowledge to be an informed decision maker.” SOURCE: Bud Boulter, SAF/AQRE, and David Crawford, MITRE, “OTB Implementation,” presentation to the committee on November 4, 2014.
2Technical baseline is distinct from tech base, the latter term more often associated with Department of Defense basic research (6.1 and 6.2).
In this context, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition requested that the Air Force Studies Board of the National Academies’ National Research Council (NRC) undertake a workshop with the following terms of reference: (1) identify the essential elements of the technical baseline that would benefit from realignment under Air Force or government ownership, and the value to the Air Force of regaining ownership under its design capture process of the future; (2) identify the barriers that must be addressed for the Air Force to regain technical baseline control to include workforce, policy and process, funding, culture, contracts, and other factors; and (3) provide terms of reference for a possible follow-on study to explore the issues and make recommendations required to implement and institutionalize the technical baseline concept, and possibly prototype the concept on a demonstration program for lessons learned. Figure O-1 provides a graphical depiction of how the workshop relates to current Air Force and DoD initiatives.
A committee, the Committee on Owning the Technical Baseline in the U.S. Air Force: A Workshop, appointed by the NRC in October 2014 under the auspices of the Air Force Studies Board (see Appendix A), planned and participated in the workshop and prepared the report. This report summarizes individual committee members’ observations, based on presentations that they received from 35 DoD program managers, current and senior DoD leaders, and program contract managers and also highlights a select set of these presentations. While the committee is responsible for the overall quality and accuracy of the report as a record of what transpired at the workshop, the views contained in this section and in the rest of the report are not necessarily those of all workshop participants, the committee, or the NRC. The committee was not asked to reach consensus on conclusions, findings, or recommendations.
FIGURE O-1 “Owning the Technical Baseline” roles and responsibilities as part of an overall Department of Defense acquisition strategy. SOURCE: Lt Gen John Thompson, Commander, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center. Approved for release by SAF/PAO on December 18, 2014.
Three workshop sessions were held on November 4-5, 2014 (Washington, D.C.); December 17-18, 2014 (Dayton, Ohio); and January 20-22, 2015 (Washington, D.C.) (see Appendix B). DoD program managers, current and senior DoD leaders, and program contract managers made presentations at the workshop. DoD program managers were encouraged to respond to the following questions, but no attempt was made by the organizing committee, workshop participants, or staff to evaluate or assess the health or likelihood of success of any of the programs discussed:
- How would you describe the health of your program?
- What constitutes the technical baseline for your program and what is it based on?
- To what level does the government manage the technical baseline, and how does your contract enable you to do so?
- What mechanisms/processes are in place to manage/control the technical baseline?
- Do you feel properly resourced to manage your technical baseline?
Senior DoD leaders were asked to respond to the following questions:
- How do you define a program’s technical baseline?
- What policy guidance or instruction has been provided to the program executive officers (PEOs) and program managers (PMs) regarding ownership of the technical baseline?
- To what extent are you willing to fund the programs to be able to take control and manage their technical baselines?
- Do you believe they are already adequately resourced to manage the technical baseline?
The scope of the workshop included not only current and future Air Force and DoD programs, but also past programs, such as the Expeditionary Combat Support System, where the workshop participants could potentially glean lessons learned and also practices that could be applied to current and future programs. Presentations at the workshop served as useful points of discussion throughout the workshop and the basis for the discussions summarized below.
SUMMARY OF RECURRING TOPICS ARISING DURING THE WORKSHOP
During the course of the three 2-day workshop sessions, several recurring topics emerged as a result of various presentations and resulting dialogue among the participants. These issues are summarized below along with the names of the participants who identified the common topic. Details underlying each topic are found in Chapter 2.
Programs: According to several workshop participants (Terry Jaggers, Trey Obering, Richard Roca), the most important issue with respect to managing the technical baseline of a weapon system is for the PEO and PM to be able to oversee and manage the baseline with accountability, authority, and responsibility.
Leadership and Culture: In the opinion of at least two participants (Michael Griffin, Trey Obering), it is essential that senior Air Force leadership make it clear to all functional leaders supporting acquisition that the Air Force highly values technically trained and competent acquisition and engineering personnel.
Workforce: In the view of three participants (Terry Jaggers, Jon Ogg, Sue Payton), continuity, longevity, and mentoring in the engineering and technical fields, including a succession pipeline, are crucial for success of a program. They argued that the Air Force needs to implement a formal, robust, and credible training and mentoring program to (1) transfer knowledge to upcoming acquisition professionals and (2) develop demonstrable business acumen in the acquisition workforce.
Funding: According to several participants (Claude Bolton, Jr., Jon Ogg, Sue Payton), the limitations of operations and maintenance (O&M) funding and the inability to use research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) funding for hiring, retaining, and training the technical acquisition workforce create barriers to success. In their view, this lack of adequate and timely funding limits the ability of acquisition-center functional leads from shaping the workforce to meet the demands for knowledgeable and experienced technical talent.
Contracting: In the opinion of two participants (Terry Jaggers, Gary Kyle), it is essential that contracts reflect the proper level of government technical and business engagement to include oversight, insight, data rights, and intellectual property consistent with the program’s life cycle acquisition strategy. This should start at the earliest phases of the program and include a maintenance or sustainment approach for owning the technical baseline over the life cycle of the program.