Army launches several new initiatives to integrate small business technologies into its systems

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Pentagon prime contractors already have plenty of reason to partner with smaller companies that have worked on technologies that solve military problems. But under a new Army program, they’ll have another big one: Their offerings will get an explicit advantage in future purchases if they partner with these companies.

The new initiative, called Project Vista, is one of many ideas the Army plans to test over the next few years to help…

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Pentagon prime contractors already have plenty of reason to partner with smaller companies that have worked on technologies that solve military problems. But under a new Army program, they’ll have another big one: Their offerings will get an explicit advantage in future purchases if they partner with these companies.

The new initiative, called Project Vista, is one of many ideas the Army plans to test over the next few years to help small businesses it has already invested in get through the infamous “valley of death.”

Officials planned to detail them at the AUSA’s annual conference in Washington this week. Gabe Camarillo, the Under Secretary of the Army, outlined the initiatives and the thinking behind them in an exclusive interview with Federal News Network.

With respect to Project Vista specifically, the basic idea is that the military needs better ways to ensure that the specific technologies it has helped fund through its innovative small business research programs (SBIR) and Technology Transfer for Small Businesses (STTR) really manage to be fully developed. weapon systems.

“We felt that the military needed to do something more to help fill this valley of death, because often we only talked about it in the context of directly awarding contracts to small businesses,” he said. he declared. “But that overlooks the fact that many of the opportunities for small businesses are about teaming up with integrators who can bring together the innovation and technology that our small businesses provide into a capability that can be used by our warfighter.”

Vista will start out as a relatively small pilot program, most likely with some of the military’s lesser value weapon systems – ACAT 3 and ACAT 4, in DoD acquisition parlance. But the basic idea is that competitors whose proposals include the small business partnerships sought by the military will earn higher technical scores in the source selection process.

Camarillo said no changes are required to DoD procurement laws or regulations to implement the program: procurement managers will simply need to clearly indicate in advance that they will be awarding higher technical ratings. high to bidders whose proposals include specific technologies that have already piqued government interest through SIBR, STTR and other outreach programs.

“We will be very upfront with everyone in the industry about how we might give credit to source selection. We do that today on other things, like when companies can provide additional information on how we can reduce sustainment costs, or proposals that identify critical supply chain issues.” , did he declare. “It just adds another category: for the right program, in the right context, we can encourage the use of these small companies. This could help some of these innovative companies to bridge the valley of death a little better. .

Along the same lines, the Army plans to create a separate pot to fund the SBIR and STTR programs that target the finer technical issues it is trying to solve over the next decade or two. This management reserve, under the banner of a new program called “Catalyst,” will include ways for the military to provide direct investment for technologies that have “fallen through the cracks,” Camarillo said.

“We want to provide some sort of publication that will give attendees a bit more clarity on the critical enabling technologies we’re looking to invest in and the challenges we’re looking to solve,” he said. “A lot of them come as no surprise when you look at our modernization priorities today, but I think we’ll definitely have the opportunity to dig into that.”

Meanwhile, to help senior Army leaders and individual program managers better understand what already exists in the innovation ecosystem the government is already helping to fund, the service plans to establish a new R&D “market”.

“There are repositories of expertise elsewhere, but none capture what we’ve already funded within the military,” Camarillo said. “We want to disseminate this information as widely as possible to our program managers and PEOs to enable some kind of partnership with industry, especially with integrators.”

Separately, the military is planning another initiative to help its acquisition staff determine how much intellectual property the government must own for each of the technologies it funds and purchases.

This issue hampered Defense procurement for years as the military struggled to balance having the intellectual property rights it needed to maintain its systems over time, without requiring so much ownership that private companies lose interest in bidding for contracts

Camarillo said the Army now plans to set up its own “IP cell” of experts within Army headquarters. Their primary task will be to serve as a resource to procurement officers in the department’s Program Management Offices and Program Executive Offices, and advise them on how to structure agreements with industry.

The idea isn’t exactly new: Congress directed the Department of Defense to create a similar “IP Executive” to serve as the IP expert group for all military procurement. But the Government Accountability Office reported late last year that the DoD had funded only five positions in the new office, all designated as temporary.

Camarillo said the Army is creating its own cell in part because it wants its panel of experts to be able to align its advice with service-specific intellectual property policy in the Army. published in 2018which calls for highly tailored and more “nuanced” approaches to procurement.

“There are ways to have tailored approaches to IP that suit each individual development program and are particularly important for each set of technologies being developed,” he said. “So the idea here is not to rely on a small cell across the department, but to develop our own framework of expertise. And that will help us in many ways. First and foremost, as we consider a more targeted use of our small business innovation research programs, how can this inform some of these efforts and strategies in the future? But then, as we adapt program acquisition strategies, we’ll benefit from in-house IP expertise that will help us develop these bespoke approaches early on, so we’re asking for the right amount of intellectual property to the industry, no more than we need.”

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