The U.S. Air Force has spent years trying to posture itself for an omnibus information-services competition under the rubric of NETCENTS-2. The name “NETCENTS” is a contraction of the phrase “network-centric solutions,” and it says something about how long the second phase in the program is taking to implement that people in the Pentagon have long since stopped talking about network-centric warfare. The term is a throwback to the ill-fated military transformation initiatives of the Rumsfeld era.
It would be nice if the service could dispense with its complex networking requirements the same way people jettison jargon in the Pentagon, but it can’t. NETCENTS-2 is crucial to assuring that the Air Force gets the information support it needs to accomplish future missions. But after being delayed for over two years, there’s no clear end-point in sight. The reason why, apparently, is that the service sought to activate a new acquisition strategy without having the necessary staff to execute it. The new strategy is similar to an approach I have repeatedly criticized that the Navy wants to implement in its Next Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN, or “en-gen”). Basically, it involves fragmenting the provision of services among numerous offerors whose performance then must be monitored and periodically recompeted.
I’m no expert on networking, but it’s a basic principle of sound business practice that you don’t embrace a strategy requiring more resources than you possess. That’s what the Air Force seems to have done — it has enough money, but it doesn’t have enough technical personnel to carry out the strategy. So end users have been waiting a long time for the new program to get going, and now it looks like another extension of the previous vehicle might be requested. It isn’t so clear the service has sufficient legal authority to make such a move. Even if it does, that’s a disservice to airmen and civilian workers who need the best information services available.
So enough already. The Air Force should ditch its innovative acquisition approach and just let anybody who’s qualified compete for the work. Since the program is supposed to be awarded using an “indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity” vehicle, there’s no legal barrier to opening it up to all comers. Just make awards to everyone and let’s get on with it. Doesn’t the Air Force have enough problems without wrapping its network users around the axle of unexecutable acquisition concepts? If there’s one thing America still has, it’s lots of world-class IT providers. So let’s stop impeding access to them with poorly conceived acquisition strategies.
Find Archived Articles: