This issue gives me another opportunity to praise the transparent and productive working relationship we’ve established with our commercial and organic industrial base partners, particularly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this year, the Army and our defense industry colleagues were presented with unique challenges, and we’ve faced (and continue to face) them together.
The Army has issued more than 25 policies implementing expanded authorities and acquisition flexibilities for our industry partners, allowing a rapid response from the Army contracting enterprise. These include increasing progress payment rates up to 90 percent for large businesses or 95 percent for small businesses and granting limited exemptions and waivers from certain federal contracting requirements.
In many cases, we’ve also accelerated payment schedules and shortened payment times from 30 days to 15. We worked hard to make sure the cash flow was managed in the industrial base and our industry partners did the yeoman’s work in trying to manage that as well. Hundreds of millions of dollars, particularly with our large vendors, were advanced to subcontractors so they could stay afloat. This extraordinary teamwork is exemplary, and it’s keeping both our testing and fielding schedules, as well as our programs and modernization priorities, largely on track.
For me personally, my daily report on the health of the industrial base that once spanned more than 80 pages is now a weekly report. Early on, I spent many hours each week in conference calls and on the phone with company executives. I continue this outreach today, but now have an opportunity to travel, although with limitations, and see firsthand the resilience of our industry partners. However, I continue to miss having engagements where I am able to visit multiple companies in one setting. Those 20 to 30 minutes together with company representatives in a face-to-face discussion at events—such as those held by the Association of the United States Army, the National Defense Industrial Association, the Aerospace Industries Association and other important organizations—will be hard to do again until the restrictions related to COVID-19 are resolved.
PEOPLE ARE THE MVPs
As we assess the industrial base and programmatic impacts of the pandemic, I am reminded once again that people are our most valuable asset. It’s significant how we’ve learned to take better care of our people. As I write this, the Pentagon is currently at 50 percent staffing. Some observers have said that only essential people now go to work at the Pentagon; I tell them, all workers are essential. The question is, how do we make it effective for our workforce to do their jobs while remaining safe and protected? We’ve found numerous ways to do that, both within the Army and in industry. The safety and health of our workforce—and the workforces of our industry partners—continues to be my top priority.
Within the acquisition, logistics and technology community, we’ve adopted a three-pronged approach to protecting our workforce and our warfighters. This includes:
- Protect and prevent—A comprehensive effort employing personal protective equipment, cloth face coverings, disinfecting technology and vaccine development.
- Detect and screen—A layered approach comprising diagnostic instruments and tests, mobile laboratories, thermal-imaging screening devices for fever detection, biosurveillance technology and contact tracing.
- Treat and return to duty—Deployment of therapeutics and other COVID-19 treatments to effectively treat and return personnel to duty.
For most people, the U.S. Army doesn’t come readily to mind when they think about the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, the Army—and the acquisition community in particular—have a critically important role. Our COVID-19 Task Force monitors impacts to the commercial and organic defense industrial base, and addresses the impacts to manufacturing, engineering, service and supply chains as a result of company closures, minimal manning and other restrictions within the defense industrial base. In addition, the Task Force assesses programmatic impacts that result from industrial base constraints on Army testing and fielding of capabilities to our Soldiers.
TASKED WITH EXCELLENCE
The Task Force also has an important role in coordinating the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense (JPEO-CBRND) response. The JPEO-CBRND is the primary acquisition office supporting the COVID-19 response and the primary DOD office supporting Operation Warp Speed, a federal interagency organization with a goal of producing and delivering 300 million doses of safe and effective vaccines, with the initial doses available by January 2021.
The JPEO-CBRND has undertaken herculean efforts to support as needed, from helping develop capabilities in detection, diagnosis, treatment and vaccines for warfighters, to tools that increase situational awareness of the coronavirus.
When the pandemic hit, JPEO-CBRND re-prioritized and shifted to fielding the Army’s testing and protection requirements, such as diagnostics, mobile labs and personal protective equipment to highly impacted DOD locations. It then supported DOD’s acceleration program providing medical countermeasures, including vaccines and therapeutics, diagnostics and testing capabilities, personal protective equipment, decontamination capabilities and disinfectants, and enablers such as needles, syringes, serology kits, collection kits, thermometers, initial standoff screening capability like thermal cameras and fill-finish capabilities, among others.
JPEO-CBRND and the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command collaborate frequently, leveraging each organization’s unique skill sets as a force multiplier to deliver medical products and countermeasures to our nation’s armed services. The U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command focuses primarily on research and development to address non-CBRN issues such as endemic diseases. The JPEO-CBRND focuses on CBRN threats, working with government science and technology organizations and industry partners through contracts and other agreements to transition, develop and field critical CBRN medical countermeasures to our warfighters in operations across the globe.
Working together to combat COVID-19 is imperative, and no one organization or department can possibly tackle the complexities of the mission alone. The federal interagency partnership with industry relies heavily on coordination and collaboration among scientists, program management offices, company representatives, regulatory experts, legal counsel, contracting specialists and leadership to streamline efforts and deliver results for the benefit of the nation, the Army and the Soldiers we serve.
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