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Go far by getting picky with the FAR

Army Sgt. Carlos Porras, a native of Burlington, NC, assigned to Hawk Company, 3rd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, U.S. Army Alaska, holds a compass during a land navigation course on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, April 4, 2018.  The Soldiers used their skills to plot courses using a lensatic compass, protractor, and a 1:25,000 scale map to navigate to, and locate points using provided grid coordinates within a predetermined time.

A Soldier holds a compass during a land navigation course on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, April 4, 2018. Acquisition personnel can use guides written by High Performance Teams to navigate Federal Acquisition Regulation 15 and 16, plotting a better course for customers. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Justin Connaher)

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, MASS. -- Acquisition regulations don’t come with CliffsNotes, so members of a High Performance Team here wrote 21 pages interpreting them and won a Department of Defense level award June 28 for their work.

The HPT members from Hanscom and several other major acquisition bases came together to better navigate what is commonly called Federal Acquisition Regulation 16.5. Their findings generated a 21-page Guiding Principles document, incorporated into Air Force Materiel Command’s Informational Guidance this past August and winning a 2017 Department of Defense Value Engineering Achievement Team Award. The tips laid out in the team’s document can reduce acquisition cycle times, saving money while getting products to warfighters faster.

“Many teams spend valuable time, money and resources using formal FAR 15.3 source selection procedures because there is so much stipulation, training and sample documentation available,” said Crystal Foster, chief of contracting for Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System Recapitalization team, who was one of two Hanscom members on the HPT. “Less experienced acquisition professionals gravitate toward that. They want specific direction and rules, but if they just took a closer look and use ‘broad discretion’ in FAR part 16.5, they would have more power over the process.”

Those with Air Force network access can read the final product here. To produce it, the HPT combed through 57,000 contract actions. By the team’s own estimate, those who use tactics outlined in the guide can save an average of seven weeks per order. If every program that could use these acquisition methods did so, it would streamline the process for 15 cents of every dollar the Air Force spends, for a total of $9 billion.

Foster highlights a tactical communications program, run here at Hanscom, where a $20 million source selection award took seven months using FAR part 15.. By adopting FAR 16.5 tactics, the same program office awarded a later contract for tactical communications devices in 24 weeks.

“Competing the Tactical Transportable Gateway under FAR 16 allowed for delegation of authority and streamlined briefings,” said Kerry Pelham, who was the program manager for TTG acquisition, but has since moved to work in Air Force acquisition force development in the Pentagon. “Additionally, the team had the opportunity to use their own evaluation criteria without being mandated to use a required format. In particular, the team gained legal, contract and fair opportunity decision approval in 10 days, one-third of the normal process time.”

Sean Hannaway, the other Hanscom HPT member and chief of Theater Command and Control Programs Division, explained processes that lead to program managers accepting all technically acceptable pitches by following FAR 15. If acquisition professionals widen the pool without using common sense to eliminate companies, they can end up engaging too many possibilities, and not all of them will pan out.

“The biggest risk for the customer is getting something after they needed it, and if our selection process leads to that, it’s as good as a failure,” said Hannaway. “We can go through a year-long source selection and still pick the wrong contractor, because we’re so focused on the rules. So, we hit on this phrase: Write your own rules, use your own terminology. If you evaluate your options and use the ones that give you the most control, you can move faster and make better business decisions.”

Using the team’s prescriptions, program offices could award 241 additional contracts per year, of average size orders. There may also be 40 percent targeted time savings with high volume acquisitions between $1 million and $10 million. Time to completion for actions of more than $50 million could be reduced by more than a year.