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New Pentagon Directives Seek to Improve Lab Efficiency, Industry Access

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The Pentagon released its latest iteration of its strategy to change defense acquisitions, and it has some interesting implications for federal labs. As part of Better Buying Power (BBP) 3.0, which is the third edition of the Department of Defense’s (DOD) set of principles for greater efficiency in the face of reduced budgets, Under Secretary of Defense Frank Kendall announced a variety of concrete directives for the DOD, with an increased focus on innovation. Many of these directives focus on research, more streamlined interactions with industry, and improving technology transition practices. While a large portion of the strategy focuses on contracting and acquisitions, there is a great deal that’s relevant to technology transfer as well.

"[U.S.] technological superiority is based on the effectiveness of our research and development activities," Kendall’s report states. "The Department’s research and development efforts are conducted by government laboratories, non-profit research institutions, and defense companies both large and small. Innovation comes from all of these sources, but increasingly, it also comes from the commercial sector and from overseas. Our ability to utilize all of these sources of innovation...effectively rests on the professionalism of our workforce." The new directives are geared toward improving performance all around to get the best defense program and products on all facets.

BBP 3.0’s goals include improving the return on investment in DOD research laboratories, reducing burdens on industry working with the DOD, increasing the relationship with small businesses, making it easier to access commercial expertise, removing "unproductive requirements imposed on industry," expanding outreach in global markets, and improving qualifications of R&D program leadership.

A key component of these directives involves using existing authorities to work with industry and gain access to their products and expertise. Many of these authorities are technology transfer staples like the Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), as well as growing mechanisms like public-private partnerships and Other Transaction Authority. The DOD plans to release a handbook on these authorities this summer, and will provide recommendations for ways to participate in more consortia and changes to policies or legislation this fall.

Another major piece involves a very hot topic for the tech transfer community—metrics that will improve the return on investment in DOD labs. The report cites an issue that comes up again and again in tech transfer: the differences in procedures across labs at the different service branches as a potential barrier to efficiency. The Pentagon has directed that a survey be conducted for DOD customers to determine labs’ strengths and weaknesses, with the goal of finding areas to improve. Independent consultants will compare how DOD labs work with the performance of other labs, both in the federal government and outside. According to these directives, laboratory directors must direct additional funds they gain through cost savings to research. As well, the Pentagon has ordered that productivity metrics be developed to track how well lab technologies make it to the warfighter, and that duplication between labs’ activities be studied and reduced.

The report also directs that the DOD both takes lessons from and improves the efficiency of SBIR/STTR programs. This includes a "Direct to Phase II" pilot that speeds up the SBIR process, a recommendation that use of Other Transaction Authorities be increased, a ramping up of training on SBIR and other small business R&D programs, and a new system to document successful technology transition with small businesses.

Additional recommendations covered a few issues dear to many of you: getting better training for R&D leadership, increasing the workforce pipeline, and STEM.

Read the full memorandum to see all the directives, or visit the BBP website to learn more about the entire strategy.


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