Acquisition innovation pilot program blazes trail for success

  • Published
  • By Jessica Casserly
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – An acquisition innovation pilot program is enabling Hanscom personnel to tap into new networks and accomplish the mission in non-traditional ways.

Acquisition professionals from the Digital and the Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks Directorates here participated in a six-month Base Camp program, designed to help Department of Defense teams explore unique approaches for existing challenges and capture best practices and strategies for others to follow. The formal program, a partnership between MITRE, the National Security Innovation Network, and ATX Defense, will conclude with a summit in Austin March 9. 

Zach Walker, a managing partner at ATX Defense, said his organization served as NSIN’s delivery partner for Base Camp and assisted MITRE in piloting this unique and immersive educational experience.

“Participating acquisition professionals, or ‘trekkers,’ came together to discuss novel strategies to advance their projects, while absorbing world-class content delivered by partners from across the DOD, industry, venture capital, and academia,” he said.

Capt. Craig Miles and Jean Edouard, both trekkers from the Digital Directorate’s Aerospace Management Systems Division, found immediate application for the tools and approaches they were exposed to through Base Camp.

“We tried a new tactic with a request for information we were working and sent it out to weather and radar-based consortia, which are full of non-traditional contractors,” Miles said. “It was really exciting to get input from folks who do very little work with the government and get access to brand new tech.”

Edouard said the subject matter experts or ‘trail guides’ shared other concepts and approaches to help his and Miles’ team develop a way forward.

“The guides also provided ideas on language to use in our work statements to help simplify them and make them easier for small businesses and other non-traditional players to go through,” he said.

This new, Base Camp-inspired approach resulted in four responses from consortia-related companies, which Miles said their team likely would not have received through traditional RFI channels.

“The team was early in their acquisition planning, which was ideal because it meant that we could bake in new ideas rather than encourage them to rework an existing strategy,” said Lorna Tedder, a MITRE program manager and agile acquisition SME who helped guide Miles and Edouard’s team. “We were able to give them a more comprehensive vision, not just for their contract strategy, but for how to plan now so they can avoid future hindrances and delays.”

Maj. Andrew Bettinger, the Digital Directorate’s chief innovation officer and a trekker, said the program also helps participants better navigate the innovation ecosystem.

“I’m hoping to create a deliverable to help organize available innovative resources for things like established funding and acquisition approaches,” Bettinger said. “I was working on this effort prior to Base Camp, but now I have a lot of takeaways from that program to include.”

John Griffin, NSIN’s Regional Engagement principal for Boston, said Hanscom trekkers are demonstrating that innovation is a cultural mindset.

“Innovation is not driven by general officers who direct change,” he said. “While we need the senior leaders to encourage and resource innovation appropriately, innovation has to be part of the culture and exercised by end users. Clearly that environment exists at Hanscom.”

Miles agreed that having support from leadership is key when testing innovative ideas like the ones shared throughout Base Camp.

“I think the main lesson here is that opportunities like this don’t always come around and it takes the right type of leadership to allow these things to happen,” he said. “Leadership that brings in this innovative new culture and is willing to take risks to try new things is how we get things done.”

Jim Rabuck, NSIN’s Regional Engagement principal for Austin, said discussions are ongoing about future Base Camp programing.

“We’re hoping to run a second iteration,” he said. “Nothing is set in stone, but we’re taking all feedback, reshaping some of the content, adjusting the size of the program, and possibly expanding this to other branches of service.”