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DOD urged to go commercial

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Industry and market experts told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Dec. 1 that the Defense Department must be less rigid in its acquisition processes and move toward more nimble commercial practices.

Ben FitzGerald, a senior fellow and director of the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, said the military increasingly relies on commercial technology, such as Apple and Samsung Galaxy smartphones and enterprise email, for certain IT needs. He told the senators that this approach should be extended to other technology areas in which industry is innovating more quickly, more efficiently and less expensively.

“The government should…think creatively about how to quickly adapt a broader range of technologies to various military environments,” FitzGerald said. “While the market will not yield a stealthy, armed drone, commercially available drones may be utilized for tactical applications at a fraction of the cost of military models.”

DOD also must make itself more attractive to potential employees and contractors, the panel witnesses said.

Jacques Gansler, chairman and CEO of the Gansler Group and a University of Maryland professor emeritus, said commercial firms that want to do business with the Pentagon face significant barriers. Defense is not expected to be a growth market, he said. Profit margins are mandated to be low, and an incredible array of regulations for doing business with the government drives up costs and scares away commercial firms, he added.

Norman Augustine, former Lockheed Martin CEO and co-author of the book “The Defense Revolution,” agreed. Many of the”state-of-the-art” technologists that federal agencies such as the CIA long relied on to develop advanced IT capabilities have moved to tech centers such as Silicon Valley, Route 128, Research Triangle and Houston. Most of them, he added, “wanted absolutely nothing to do with government procurement policies.”

All three experts agreed that the policies surrounding DOD acquisitions are a daunting barrier to commercial entities that might otherwise be interested in developing technologies with the agency. And because changes to such a massive system are complicated and come with inevitable trade-offs, Augustine said one element was absolutely critical: judgment.

“Judgment regarding complex issues is an attribute that can only be found in one place — competent, dedicated, experienced people who are given the freedom to exercise judgment,” he said.