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GCN : April 2015
TEST & EVALUATION BEST PRACTICES The Air Force is testing a new ap- proach to acquisitions that would enable vendors to have contracts in hand just weeks after demonstrating their potential solutions. The approach comes in the form of PlugFest Plus (PFP), an event similar to other PlugFests but with one ma- jor difference: the contracting angle. “Regular” PlugFests give companies a chance to test equipment or software in- teroperability against standards and pres- ent live demonstrations of their existing technical capabilities. They also provide essential feedback to both agencies and the vendors whose products are tested at the event. PFP is a component of the Air Force’s Bending the Cost Curve Initiative, which aims to improve dialog with industry so it, “can better understand how processes, procedures and some of the choices we make can inadvertently contribute to ris- ing costs, the stifling of innovation and slow processes,” said Air Force Secretar y Deborah Lee James in a speech at the At- lantic Council. “Under our new PlugFest Plus approach, we will put in place a mechanism whereby a vendor could walk away with a contract just a few weeks after an event,” James said. “They’re trying to expand their access to talent and to innovation through non- traditional means and through nontra- ditional defense companies,” said Dave Chesebrough, president of the Association for Enterprise Information (AFEI), which hosted the first PFP on Jan. 20 at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. “So, the notion is taking an industry best practice – a PlugFest– and coupling that with an Other Transaction Authority (OTA) acquisition instrument. As a result of the testing done in the virtual envi- ronment, [the Air Force] can determine whether they might want to further fund some prototype developments.” Congress has approved the Defense De- partment to use OTAs “to expand the de- fense supply base through non-traditional contracts for research, development, test- ing and evaluation (RDT&E) activities,” according to AFEI. “OTA contracts are not subject to federal acquisition regulations (FAR) or any other body of regulation. This flexibility is in- tended to enable the Defense Department to overcome bureaucratic barriers that often prevent non-traditional defense con- tractors from pursuing government work.” The Air Force used PFP for its Distrib- uted Common Ground System, which produces intelligence information from sensor-collected data. Vendors can virtual- ly test their solutions by registering to use the Hanscom milCloud, an instantiation of the Defense Information Systems Agency’s CONS3RT cloud management software. Recently, the Air Force announced it would pursue a Plugfest Plus approach to the Multi-Releasable Intelligence Product Generation project, to help expedite re- leasabilty rules for intelligence analysts. By combining PlugFests with OTAs, the acquisition process moves faster. “It speeds things up by converting what is generally considered to be a government acquisi- tion through a neutral third party into a commercial acquisition so that things are not as bureaucratic and can happen much more quickly,” Chesebrough said. At this first PFP, about 150 attendees perused the showcases of 10 vendors and a team of GMU students. “The Air Force generally liked it,” Chesebrough said. On the vendor side, some are skeptical of working outside the traditional acquisition processes, while others view this as an op- portunity for innovation. “ They were just sort of testing the wa- ter,” Chesebrough said. “I think their re- action was primarily positive, but they’d like to see whether the Air Force is able to make good on this whole idea of a PlugFest environment.” • The Air Force is adapting an approach for testing software and equipment interoperability to help speed the contract award process PlugFest Plus aims to speed tech innovation BY STEPHANIE KANOWITZ “Under our new PlugFest Plus a vendor could walk away with a contract just a few weeks after an event.” – A I R FORCE SECRETARY DEBORAH LEE JAMES 32 GCN APRIL 2015 • GCN.COM 0415gcn_032.indd 32 3/31/15 1:50 PM