Historically the focus of the defense acquisition and sustainment system has swung pendulum-like between two policy objectives. At one end of the arc, the goal is effectiveness: insuring that the military gets the best equipment and support available as rapidly as possible even if this means choosing a more costly alternative. Effectiveness is the priority when U.S. forces are engaged in combat as they have been for the past decade. At the other end of the arc the goal is efficiency: providing solutions based on best value or even lowest cost. In order to achieve efficient outcomes, the acquisition system tends to increase oversight and slow down the process of buying goods and delivering services. A focus on efficiency is common in peacetime, particularly when defense budgets are declining.
We are living in a period in world history that can be characterized as “neither war nor peace.” Although the U.S. military is out of Iraq it is still operating in Afghanistan, conducting counter terrorism activities in dozens of places and contemplating (perhaps planning for) the possibility of having to intervene in such countries as Syria, Libya and Iran. The adversaries’ tactics, techniques and procedures are continuously evolving, requiring that U.S. forces respond with new means and methods.
At the same time, defense budgets have begun to decline and pressure is increasing to reduce acquisition costs. As one DoD acquisition official described the change, the environment is changing from “how quick can I get it done” to “do I know how every penny is being spent.” The Department of Defense has instituted a series of reforms under the banner of Better Buying Power intended to improve the efficiency of the acquisition system and, in particular, reduce the cost of defense goods and services. The drive for efficiency often results in greater oversight, a more protracted contracting process and an increase in the time it takes to deliver goods and services. Further complicating the acquisition system’s efforts to become more efficient is the growing demand by the military for commercially produced goods and services. The challenge for the acquisition system in an era of neither war nor peace is how to balance the need for effectiveness in the provision of support to the warfighter with the demand for greater efficiency.
The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) has instituted a new approach to supporting the warfighter, one that is both effective and efficient. DLA’s Tailored Logistics Support Program (TLSP) enables customers from any of the services to acquire rapidly and at an affordable price specific categories of goods that are almost entirely commercial in character. TLSP ensures that DLA customers are able to get the products that they want when and where they need them while providing for continuing competition among providers that serves to reduce costs. How is this balancing act achieved? TLSP is based on multiple long-term indefinite duration/indefinite quantity contracts awarded to highly qualified and experienced prime vendors or integrating contractors who, in turn, have access to a wide array of commercial and specialty vendors. The winning contractors then compete for every task order to provide a specific type and quantity of good or service with the winner determined primarily on price and speed of delivery.
TLSP offers significant advantages over the traditional defense procurement process that are particularly significant when the products and services to be acquired are commercial in nature. A single contract with all the prime vendors and a transparent task order process governs all transactions. The prime vendors interact directly with specific product providers to ensure both quality of items procured and timeliness of delivery. This substantially reduces paperwork, manpower requirements, inventories and infrastructure. Under TLSP, new or improved products can be procured without having to execute a contract modification. The prime vendor provides customers with required cost, pricing and compliance information in the proper formats, freeing the commercial vendors, many of whom are unable or unwilling to create the necessary accounting and reporting systems, from this burden.
Currently, DLA employs TLSP in selected procurement areas such as special operations equipment and fire fighting and emergency rescue. The TLSP format is particularly relevant in these areas because most of the vendor base is commercial in character, a wide range of products and services are involved and the rates of technological change are high. Other procurement categories where the TLSP model would seem to be relevant include: communications systems and IT equipment and services, medical supplies and equipment and soldier clothing and individual equipment.
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