Robust, open, transparent and ethical government-industry collaboration helps government identify and purchase the best solutions for U.S. war fighters. Conference and travel restrictions and added oversight in recent years cost more than the waste they are intended to prevent, hindering market research by the acquisition community and technical exchanges among the scientific and engineering communities. Similarly, early engagement between government and industry in acquisition planning can help develop more affordable and realistic requirements, or help industry to align its research and development with Department of Defense priorities. As DoD pushes for more outside investment in R&D from traditional defense industry and access to innovations from commercial and nontraditional suppliers, it will need open communication with those entities to bring their products and services into the DoD marketplace.
Brad Carson, former general counsel of the Army and acting defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness, explained that functional organizations within DoD have limited government-industry collaboration because of “overenthusiastic compliance” that contradicts existing policies. For example, the Department of the Army has since November 2015 hosted three Army Innovation Summits that barred industry representatives and academia from crucial working group sessions. This behavior has an adverse impact on a host of other opportunities for mutually beneficial government-industry collaboration, such as discussion with offerors before and during the acquisition process and government training with industry.
While there remains room for improvement, positive steps have been taken. The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act included a provision that directed the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council to develop a regulation that makes it clear that acquisition personnel are permitted and encouraged to conduct responsible, constructive exchanges with industry. A November, 2016 update to a 2012 Office of Management and Budget memorandum on efficient government agency spending to support operations recognizes the value of conference attendance. Also, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy has supported the “Myth Busting” series to address and remedy the acquisition workforce's misconceptions about communication with industry during the acquisition process. Congress and DoD must continue to remove the barriers to open government-industry collaboration and provide further executive-level support for industry outreach and communication.