WASHINGTON (Dec. 28, 2017) – The U.S. defense acquisition system has grown too risk-averse, too slow and too costly, a new R Street policy paper argues. In the study, Associate Fellow Pablo E. Carrillo argues that the technological advantages once enjoyed by the U.S. Armed Forces have atrophied in ways that make it difficult to develop and field new, innovative warfighting capabilities. The U.S. Defense Department (DOD) will need to find ways to foster better collaboration with the commercial sector, where today’s most promising advances in technological innovation tend to emerge.

“The opportunities for small, commercial, nontraditional suppliers of new, technologically innovative products and services to sell to the DOD are as promising as ever,” Carrillo writes. “This has been made possible by a regulatory environment that has become favorable to doing business with the Pentagon. In order for the DOD to have continued access to these emerging technologies and to leverage them in connection with its procurement priorities, it will effectively have to manage the ecosystem within which all of these stakeholders operate. “

In order to do this, Carrillo argues, the DoD should reorganize the acquisition directorate and implement the recent legislative reforms, as intended by Congress. He also stresses the importance of placing the right acquisition professionals in the right management positions at the DOD and giving them the necessary authority and resources to discharge their newly created responsibilities. Ultimately, the Pentagon must use performance metrics to track how successfully it procures and employs innovative commercial technologies from nontraditional suppliers.

“Put simply, the status quo is unavoidable and unsustainable, and thus the DOD (and Congress) must maintain and promote a new defense technological innovation ecosystem that allows all relevant stakeholders—particularly the DOD—to extract intended benefits,” writes Carrillo. “While it may be true that such a strategy is not a panacea for all that ails the defense procurement process, it would do much to correct a problem that the DOD and Congress have struggled with for decades.”