Op-Ed: Intelligence agencies must transform acquisition

October 18, 2022

Oct. 18 Federal News Network op-ed by Larry Hanauer, INSA Vice President for Policy

The Intelligence Community spends about 70% of its budget — roughly $59 billion in fiscal year 2022 — on contracts with private companies that provide everything from satellites to janitorial services. But IC acquisition is slow, process-oriented and understaffed, all of which delays the procurement of critical services, hinders the adoption of advanced technologies, and increases costs for both companies and American taxpayers.

To take advantage of private sector innovation, IC policymakers must change acquisition processes to focus on outcomes rather than inputs, enable more unclassified and remote work, make it easier for contractors to clear staff and access secure workspaces, and enhance the acquisition workforce. Ultimately, as the Defense Department wrote to Congress about its own procurement ecosystem in 2017, the IC must adapt its regimented contracting processes to enable critical thinking, effective risk management and flexible decision-making.

First and foremost, agencies should write requests for proposals based on statements of objectives (SOOs), which emphasize outcomes and results, rather than statements of work (SOWs), which specify required inputs, tasks and levels of effort. As the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) noted in a 2017 white paper on the IC’s acquisition process, SOOs empower contractors to develop innovative, cost-effective and efficient solutions to achieve the government’s goals. SOOs also make contractors accountable for generating results, thereby reducing the government’s risk.

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