Better Buying Power 3.0: DOD's New Plan for Technical Excellence and Innovation

Q1: How does the new plan differ from the first two versions of Better Buying Power?

A1: Better Buying Power has always focused on improving the defense acquisition system, with each iteration building on the initiatives contained in the last version, fine tuning the guidance and expanding the initiative’s focus to new areas. While the first two versions of Better Buying Power were intended to focus on increasing productivity and improving acquisition professionalism, the latest version puts its focus squarely on one outcome: advancing U.S. technological superiority.

Q2: How does the new plan look to advance U.S. technological superiority?

A2: While the new plan contains 34 total initiatives, it primarily looks to three main approaches to advance U.S. technological superiority: leverage the R&D investments being made by the Department of Defense (DOD), defense industry, and commercial industry to generate technology breakthroughs; use modular open systems approaches to enable the insertion of technologies in existing defense systems in months and years, not decades; and improve the acquisition system’s communication with both industry and military users so that all concerned better understand how new technologies can address existing and emerging defense needs.

Q3: How will the new plan actually affect DOD’s access to innovation?

A3: The devil will be in the details as this plan gets implemented and put into action by thousands of acquisition professionals spread in organizations throughout the country. DOD has big and increasing challenges in gaining awareness of and access to the cutting edge of technology, particularly those originating outside the traditional industrial base, but also to some extent those that are developed by traditional industry partners and even within government labs. A key issue is the ability to increase DOD’s awareness of technology development throughout the acquisition system and link that awareness with military users who generate the demand signal that leads to funding. However, even after military users are fully aware of the potential of new technologies, getting access to outside innovation remains difficult when the innovation they want comes from nontraditional sources. The new plan seeks to address these challenges, but success is by no means guaranteed. There is some reason for hope, though, in that several pockets within DOD, such as DARPA, SOCOM, and Big Safari have shown success in accessing innovation.

Q4: Will this promote innovation?

A4: As with earlier versions of Better Buying Power, industry will view this plan with a mixture of head nodding and concern. The focus on technology is welcomed by many in industry, but there are also a number of firms working on technologies, such as robotics, that are currently not particularly interested in working with DOD. If the Pentagon wants to sustain U.S. technological superiority in the twenty-first century, it will need to invest in building a culture of innovation and experimentation and deploy new technologies faster. For example, it may need to consider different approaches to intellectual property rights for inventions developed in part with funding from DOD.

An intellectual property system that allows companies and individuals to protect and commercialize their inventions is a bedrock for innovation. Innovation cannot be incentivized without a clear pathway to bring new products and services to market. Under current law, any technology or intellectual property developed with DOD funds is owned by the government, and it has the right to share it with whomever it wants. The United States also has the authority to allow other contractors to manufacture and use the patented invention “for or on behalf” of the government without obtaining a license from or compensating the patent holder. While most companies recognize that working through bureaucracy, extensive paperwork and reporting, and other compliance requirements is part of the cost of doing business to get access to the DOD market, concerns about the intellectual property rights regime for federal contracts discourages truly innovative companies and individuals from working with DOD.

Andrew Hunter is director of the Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Denise Zheng is deputy director of the CSIS Strategic Technologies Program.

Critical Questions is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

© 2015 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.