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Flexible Acquisitions at DISA Advance Warfighting Preparedness

The Defense Department’s IT support agency is taking a modernized and streamlined approach to tech contracting.

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The Defense Information Systems Agency is innovating a flexible approach with technology acquisitions through its Systems Engineering, Technology, and Innovation (SETI) contract vehicle in order to improve warfighting readiness and modernize Defense Department communications infrastructure.

The demands of rapid digital modernization across government have caused numerous federal agencies to reevaluate their approach to acquisitions, considering the highly responsive nature of technology development cycles. This is also true within America’s defense-focused agencies, where the life-and-death import of their operations has necessitated an especially thorough approach to streamlining IT contracting.

DISA is meeting this need with its SETI contracts, a series of vehicles designed to solve complex IT engineering requirements by allowing industry partners to directly demonstrate the practical usage of their proposed solutions.

“DISA made the decision back in 2015 to create a new multiple-award indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract vehicle to serve the customer base that was looking to meet unique engineering requirements,” said SETI Program Manager Chris Riley and Chief of the Contracting Office for the Defense Information Technology Contracting Organization – National Capital Region Christopher Gray in written remarks to GovernmentCIO Media & Research. “The SETI acquisition approach provided an optimal solution, in that flexible acquisition methods could be used to procure new and innovative solutions engineered to address complex capability gaps.”

Like other acquisitions reforms across the federal government, the SETI vehicle is designed to open the competitive space and move away from a more locked-in approach to private-sector contracting that will allow the most innovative firms to bring their solutions to table.

“The collective emphasis within SETI is for our contract holders to demonstrate their innovative approaches pre-award,” the officials said. “SETI is DISA’s new strategic sourcing tool that allows stakeholders to get to contract faster, foster innovation, solve complex IT problems and provides an avenue for contract holders to demonstrate innovation to requirements owners prior to the solicitation release. The acquisition flexibilities that may be employed under SETI include rapid technology prototyping, down-select contracts, oral presentations, oral proposals, milestone-based competitions, incentive prizes and challenge-based acquisitions.”

Much of SETI’s acquisitions modernization is tied directly to the DOD’s mission, especially in terms of fostering warfighting preparedness through effectively integrating new technologies.

“SETI was built to rapidly adapt to new dimensions at a time where there is an increased rate of technology shifts,” DISA said. “It was designed in a way it could meet the requirements of the future due to its systems engineering process focus that can be applied to any type of technology development.”

Contracting executives within DISA see this responsive and flexible approach to acquisitions as a proactive means of both responding to current IT trends as well as adapting to the technology demands of the future.

“The potential changes to the current operational environment were an important consideration in the design and execution of the SETI contract vehicle,” Riley and Gray said. “Technology advances are moving at a speed greater than most traditional acquisition strategies can sustain given the constructs of policy and governance. SETI is postured to be ahead of those limitations by pushing the envelope on the art of the possible when it comes to procuring innovative solutions to complex problem sets.”

Despite the more cautious and change-wary culture of DOD as a whole, Riley and Gray both expressed confidence that the SETI vehicle will help modernize the acquisitions process for America’s warfighting agencies, allowing them to potentially leverage this more flexible contracting approach toward their distinct missions.

“SETI has infused the Defense Industrial Base with brand new partners beyond just our prime awardees, but also with the vast partner network of research-based institutions and academia. The scope of the SETI contract allows for any element of DOD to leverage the contract to fulfill its requirements for cutting edge technologies and to address the information technology challenges of the future,” they said.

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