Evidence of a Changing Culture

The culture is changing. Finally.

Acquisition innovation has leveled up.  That much was evident at the 2019 Air Warfare Symposium, hosted by the Air Force Association (AFA) in Orlando 27 February – 1 March.  

Innovation is no longer the secret passion of a handful of heretics.  It’s entering the mainstream.  It has its growing pains, yes, but it is on the brink of becoming–dare I say?–normal. Maybe not plentiful enough, but I am quite encouraged by the shift I’m seeing.

The symposium spotlighted a couple of visionaries I was specifically looking forward to hearing as well as some surprises.  Extra bonus was running into my former boss and mentor, Major General Cameron Holt, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Contracting, and hearing his plans for Contracting—a pleasant reminder that now is the time for smart innovative practices to cement into our culture’s foundation, now when we have so many visionaries in power positions, not just in the Air Force either, with the ability to affect real change in Acquisition. 

Lasting change. A new culture.

Pushing Authority Down

In an age where so many forward thinkers are chomping at the bit to try rapid techniques and bumping into middle-level leaders who are resistant to change and insistent on controlling the old narrative, Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said it best at a media roundtable I attended as a blogger:

“We need to trust well-trained people and give them authority to make decisions.”

Oh, can I get an amen!

This is the opposite of taking authority away from Contracting Officers and rolling it up to the Frozen Middle, as I’ve seen in recent years.  Note, though, the emphasis on training.  We’re doing business a new way…or at least, new for most Acquisition folks, and I believe that means teaching new tools to everyone, from the new kids in the career field to the graybeards.  It’s never too late to learn new tricks. Teach it, then push authority down and let them “get after it.”

Chief of Staff General David Goldfein reiterated with the mantra, “Operating at the speed of trust.”

Partnerships and Pipelines

At a roundtable later in the day, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Will Roper talked about partnerships with industry as a new model.  This wasn’t a repeat of the  “running Government like a business” twenty years ago, but an intention to partner with businesses, start-ups, universities, airmen.  

Cost imposition was not a new idea, but one I’d not heard since my early career.  The idea of imposing cost on an adversary, causing an opponent to spend money thinking we’re working on something we’re not, has not been a strategy I’ve heard discussed since I was a GS-5 intern.  

Connecting partnerships, faster contracting processes, sustainment innovations, and an idea pipeline, Roper urged his audience to “Rethink the future as a pipeline of development with the ability to go into small production…or not.”

Yes, this is a major culture change in Acquisition.  

The Outsiders’ View of Acquisition

Investor and businessman Mark Cuban participated in this year’s Spark Tank Competition, judging the pitches of airmen with bright ideas and cost/time-saving measures.   One of the exchanges quickly went viral as Cuban questioned why the military would choose “an overly expensive system” over a cheaper, more reliable system.   It’s worth a watch–only 2 minutes.

Cuban later in a “fireside chat” emphasized the game-changer that AI will be and the importance of staying ahead of Russia and China, the latter in particular.   Most interesting was seeing his outside view of Government Acquisition, which to me underscored just how much harder it is for industry to work with the Government than to avoid the Government altogether in their business models. You can watch a 31-minute clip of his insights below. It’s worth a watch, too, especially if you’re following our race with China.

C 2019

Lorna Tedder

Effective 29 April 2019: Lead/Principal DoD Program Management and Agile Acquisition Subject Matter Expert at The Mitre Corporation


Lorna Tedder
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  • Recently retired Contracting Officer, unlimited AFMC warrant 1991-2018; Rapid Acquisition Consultant, 2018-2019.
  • Nationally recognized Innovation Thought Leader in Government acquisition
  • Rapid acquisition teacher, both FAR and non-FAR based contracting
  • Master brain-stormer and advisor to program offices across the DoD
  • Expert in developing junior and mid-level personnel to become innovators in Government acquisition
  • 3 decades of first-hand experience and success with Other Transactions, Oral Proposals, 10 USC 2373, Broad Agency Announcements, unique pricing arrangements, Price Based Acquisition, Award Without Discussion, streamlined source selections, multiple award IDIQs, UCAs, waivers, omnibus tool creation, Quick Reaction Capability teams, and strategic sourcing.
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