Contracting director shares plan for acquisition culture change
By Deborah L. Powers, 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
/ Published June 20, 2019
LEXINGTON, Mass. – In this era of global competition, the Air Force contracting system needed to make adjustments, a Hanscom Air Force Base senior executive told a local industry group here June 18.
Tony Braswell, Senior Executive Service member and Hanscom Air Force Base director of Contracting, shared details of a strategic plan aimed to change the acquisition culture at a Hanscom Representatives Association’s monthly meeting.
For decades, contracting specialists were structured in their approaches, indoctrinated in compliance. But now the dynamic is expanding to better meet mission partners’ needs.
“So we’re changing the culture, becoming more proactive than reactive and less risk averse,” he said. “We’ve taken on the motto of becoming mission-focused business leaders, and we need our industry partners to come along with us as well.”
Braswell admitted that culture change is a difficult undertaking, likening it to turning around a battleship as compared to a PT boat. But that’s why an Air Force-wide strategic plan with several lines of effort was established to enable transformation.
One of the approaches is to reimagine training and to expand collaborative training efforts with other functionals.
“We need to train our people to critically think, to be innovative, to look at all the tools in our tool chest when it comes to the types of contract structure,” the SES said.
A second follow-on initiative dubbed “tools not rules” empowers contracting officers by allowing more decision-making autonomy and by reducing mandatory procedures in regulatory guidance. Braswell stressed that while compliance with laws is a must, the acquisition world is stepping away from a cookie-cutter view of regulations.
“Regardless of the type of contract, we have to allow our managers to analyze the requirements and apply the right tool,” he said. “So we’re using tools we haven’t used in a long time, in places we’ve never used them before.”
Additional components focus on optimizing effectiveness of contract structures and improving contingency contracting in a joint environment.
Local initiatives continue to be impactful in the contracting field as well, including Air Force Pitch Day events that bring in new technology and capabilities, and a pilot program called “First Look” that allows nearby businesses the opportunity to bid on micro-purchase actions.
Global reforms have likewise been instituted, including the evaluation methodology now being used; a system Braswell describes as an evolutionary, innovative approach to streamlining procedures.
“That’s had great success cutting down our timelines, getting things done quicker; it’s an important part of our mission as well.”
He noted to the attendees that industry partners also can positively impact schedules, and help inject the cultural change being sought.
“We’re trying to interface and network as much as we can with our industry partners to get your ideas, to find out what works for you,” he said. “I think the big word here is collaborate – just to collaborate better on all things.”