Acquisition as wargame

The Pentagon’s Air Force acquisition office challenged teams to protect nearly one million users from dangerous malware during a pilot wargame held June 26-30 at the Hanscom Conference Center here.

The wargame scenario was ripped from the headlines and one of the three participating teams were required to abide by the strictest interpretations of Federal Acquisition Regulation, or FAR.

“I think we all said ‘Oh, no!’ when we found out we couldn’t use newer techniques,” said Capt. Evangeline Fleischaker, Pacific Command Strategic Early Warning System theatre program lead assigned to Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, a member of a the team tasked to use the most traditional acquisition approach. “But then we realized, when we started looking at the FAR, that there’s actually a lot of room to cut time, save money and get a better product. You just have to step back and look at it piece by piece.”

Fleischaker’s team consisted of lawyers, engineers and program managers with decades of experience. Within three days, they created an acquisition strategy that would induce small businesses to team up and compete with larger contractors to create a software patch to be installed on more than 950,000 desktop, laptop and mobile devices.

Each of the three participating teams were assigned a particular approach to the problem: a more traditional acquisition based on the FAR; an approach to obtain solutions from non-traditional defense companies utilizing Other Transactional Authorities; and an approach to exploit flexibilities inherent in the FAR.

During the weeklong exercise, the teams sought new approaches to real-world challenges, like those posed by evolving computer viruses, malware threats and zero-day software security breaches.

OTAs target small businesses which have done little, or no work, for the Department of Defense in the past. ‘Innovative’ acquisition methods include exotic contracting vehicles that can limit competition in favor of speed. Fleischaker’s ‘traditional’ acquisition methods are proven acquisition strategies that can be time-consuming and are subject to protest.

“I think the traditional team was certainly challenged by their requirement to abide by traditional acquisition methods, but they would have succeeded, because they took a more risky approach,” said David Temple, program management organizational staff functional with the Battle Management Directorate at Hanscom. “It’s very difficult to be the first team to take risk, because those teams sometimes fail, but we hope that games like this will get our teams, and their managers, more in the mindset of identifying risk early and challenging the system as much as possible.”

Secretary of the Air Force’s Office of Transformational Innovation chose Hanscom as the location to pilot the first in a series of three wargames, which will be held at other acquisition centers throughout the Air Force, in a bid to create new approaches and expose more personnel to innovative acquisition methods. The traditional team was comprised of members of the Battle Management Directorate; the OTA team from Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks Directorate; and the third team’s members hailed from AFLCMC-Hanscom’s functional staff, the General Services Administration, and the Boston office of the Defense Contract Management Agency.

Each team came in under time, but Fleischaker’s team had the smallest margin for error. The goal of the wargame is capturing innovative techniques, so no ‘winner’ was declared.

“A lot of younger officers and civilians are coming in and saying ‘Hey, wait a minute, why can’t I get a waiver for this, or why can’t I use this other method?’” said Temple. “We want them to route those newer, more rapid and creative solutions up the chain. It’s then on the mid-level management to be more accepting and expand the way they think about these opportunities. We’re putting the responsibility on their shoulders to bring more innovative approaches to senior leadership.”