DTRA Seeks To Speed Acquisitions

At the behest Defense Department Acquisition Chief Ellen Lord, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) is looking for ways to speed its acquisitions so that it can meet warfighter requirements faster, the agency’s head said last Thursday.

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Dr. Vayl Oxford, director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. Photo: DTRA

Depending on complexity and the capabilities being sought by theater commanders, DTRA has been able to provide solutions in as little as 12 days but usually its within two to three years, Dr. Vayl Oxford, the agency’s director, told a House Armed Services Committee (HASC) panel.

Responding to a question from Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) about the turnaround time for requests from combatant commanders, Oxford said that Lord, who is the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, has tasked him with “a lot of requirements … to make sure we are looking at every contracting vehicle possible as opposed to what had become kind of the traditional contracting vehicles people have used.”

DTRA is a Department of Defense combat support agency focused on combatting weapons of mass destruction. The agency reports to Lord.

Oxford said that Lord wants DTRA’s contracting officers trained in Other Transaction Authority (OTA) mechanisms, which are applied to prototype efforts and are considered flexible and efficient for rapidly getting solutions fielded quickly. He said the agency will also take advantage of OTA’s used elsewhere within DoD.

“We have people who are using OTAs at this point in time but it’s going to be a bigger part of our future as we look across consortiums that have been established elsewhere by DIUx and others to make use of the OTA’s they already have in place because we can rapidly get things under contract that way,” Oxford told the HASC Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities.

DIUx stands for Defense Innovation Unit Experimental and was stood up during the Obama administration to tap into potential solutions provided by startups and high-technology firms like those found in Silicon Valley using non-traditional contracting mechanisms that are appealing to these companies because they cut through the bureaucracy.

Oxford said that DTRA had become “too traditional in some of our contracting,” so it has created a new “innovation office” that will examine the agency’s contracting issues and help sort out what is the best contracting vehicle to apply to a particular requirement so that turnaround times can be improved. He added that DTRA is “bringing in new contracting officers to get at the problems in a more holistic way and with a lot more innovation.”

In his written statement to the subcommittee, Oxford said that Lord has pointed to the Joint Improvised Threat Defeat Organization (JIDO), which was put under DTRA in Sept. 2016, as an example of how she wants “to deliver performance at the speed of relevancy.” JIDO uses contracting tools to streamline acquisitions and rapidly deliver counter-improvised explosive device capabilities to warfighters.

In his written statement, Oxford said he has developed four key priorities for his agency. In addition to using finding new ways to develop and rapidly field capabilities, a second priority is that “I have enhanced our focus on our combat support responsibilities” by improving communications and networking with various commands, he said.

“We have asked the Combatant Commands to prioritize their requests based on the threat so that we can utilize those inputs in our own budget strategies and planning process,” Oxford stated.

Another priority is strengthening relationships with international partners and the interagency to leverage expertise and capabilities, Oxford said. His final priority has been to work to empower the leaders and staff of the agency, delegating decision-making to the right levels.

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