Robin Dreeke is a US Naval Academy graduate and veteran Marine Corps Officer. He spent twenty-one years as an FBI Special Agent specializing in counterintelligence and was chief of the Counterintelligence Behavioral Analysis Program.
OPINION — Having led the Counterintelligence Behavioral Analysis program at FBI, I have experience with millions of dollars of budgets and contracts. In the final years of my decades-long FBI career, I worked very closely with hundreds of our cleared defense contractors who complained about the challenges of working with the DoD. They directed their frustration towards the defense acquisition system, which is still not meeting our national security needs.
As an expert behaviorist, I’m reminded of the simple definition of insanity, doing the same thing every day and expecting different results. That is how Congress and the Department of Defense approach defense acquisitions. They see every procurement failure, every needed fix, every reform effort as a call for passing more laws and more regulations, additional certifications, audits and levels of review. We have been pursuing the same approach for decades and it is still not working. Let’s stop acting insane.
We must improve our acquisition system or we risk losing our military advantage, all facets of US military superiority. We must change how we protect our warfighters and strengthen US national security with a new approach focused on understanding what motivates industry behavior.
Commercial markets manage to execute hundreds of thousands of acquisitions every day, often faster, cheaper, and more effectively than DoD. DoD should craft policies that incentivize industry and jettison those outdated policies that drive companies to pursue other opportunities that may in the end, damage our national security.
Industry is motivated by speed to contract (sales cycle time), protecting IP crown jewels, cash-flow, and profit. To turn these motivations into acquisition policy that effectively incentivizes industry to work with DoD and invest its own resources into defense-related manufacturing capabilities and R&D, DoD must cut regulations that drive up costs and delay cycle-times; protect the IP rights of industry or pay for such rights; and focus on best value to the DoD and not on the profit margins of industry.
Under Secretary of Defense Ellen Lord believes the acquisition system must move at “the speed of relevance.” But speed is rarely the term people use to describe the defense acquisition system, which is bogged down by rules, regulations, certifications, and approval authorities, which are frequently irrelevant to the specific contract. And then there is the budget process that often requires years of pre-planning.
Many companies are unwilling to wait years, wade through hundreds of pages of regulations and contract documents, and subject themselves to various types of audits, in the hope they can start working on a contract.
To speed up the acquisition process and remove regulations that dissuade companies from working with DoD, let’s follow a simple premise: let the acquisition workforce do their job with fewer regulations, more consistently applied; and focus on making decisions customized to specific acquisitions in place of the current approach of using a one-size-fits-all onerous regulatory regimen that prizes compliance over good outcomes.
This will more effectively protect government interests by incentivizing more companies to enter the defense market with innovation and acquisitions moving at ‘the speed of relevance.’
IP Rights is also a serious issue. Many companies I worked directly with while at the FBI working corporate outreach feared loss of their IP, whether it was from competitors, state actors like China, or just a government process that inadvertently exposed their work to others.
Industry is motivated by cash-flow, return on investment, and transparency. Returns in the defense sector must be competitive with the private sector to attract more competition. And, as it turns out, more competition means that market forces – not bureaucratic and regulatory fiat—will drive down costs to DoD.
The United States is operating in a world where technology is constantly changing, and the United States government no longer dominates global R&D. The resources required to develop advanced technologies are no longer the sole purview of world powers, and US military adversaries such as China, Russia, and others are evolving faster than ever, threatening and in some cases surpassing, the military advantages of the U.S.
The health and readiness of the defense industrial base has eroded in critical areas, jeopardizing U.S. economic and military leadership. The DoD no longer has the resources or capabilities to ensure technological overmatch without the help of private industry. The best way to leverage private industry is by understanding their interests and motives and creating the opportunities that will motivate industry to work with DoD.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion. The Cipher Brief is dedicated to presenting a range of expert-based opinions on national security-related issues. Those expressed, however, represent the author and do not necessarily represent the broader Cipher Brief community.