The Misguided Campaign to Undermine OTAs and Innovation

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July 9, 2018 | Originally published by Date Line: July 9 on

The breathtaking pace at which our adversaries deploy new offensive cyber tools and techniques has sprinted past our existing legacy IT systems, which cannot be modified fast enough to make them secure. To fight back, we need the ability to procure new technologies to keep pace with the development of new technologies.

In government contracting, it is a truism that significant challenges to the status quo invariably create pushback. But the status quo in government IT is inertia, and in a world of constantly evolving cyber threats, this creates greater risks and vulnerabilities. Our enemies in cyberspace are not standing still. Why should federal agencies?

A recent Government Accountability Office report confirmed that for every budget dollar spent on federal IT systems, about 80 cents goes to maintaining older legacy systems. Only 20 cents goes to purchasing modern, innovative and secure federal IT. This is a problem acknowledged across the federal government.

Unfortunately, there is simply too much money to be made in maintaining the status quo for reform efforts to go unchallenged. To be blunt, the federal IT budget is projected to exceed $90 billion dollars, and with 80 percent of that going to legacy IT spending, there”s a massive revenue stream that entrenched incumbents want to protect.

Given these dynamics, it is not surprising that one of the most interesting, and potentially revolutionary, acquisition methods in recent years has come under attack. Other Transaction Authority, or OTA, seeks to break the stranglehold of the existing cumbersome acquisition system and enable federal IT pros to acquire technology at the speed of relevance.

Congress realized this urgency several years ago, when it authorized the use of accelerated (or “rapid”) acquisition authorities in the National Defense Authorization Act. It did something truly brilliant – it tied accelerated acquisition authorities with the ability of the agency to take a prototype directly to production using Other Transaction Authority.

That”s where OTAs can be enormously beneficial to federal agencies. But according to a recent report, agencies are using OTAs for less than $7 billion worth of contracts. Given how much the government spends on IT, that figure should grow exponentially.

Consider also recent congressional efforts to impose burdensome reporting obligations for OTA use, specifically requiring justification for each OTA production contract and transaction and establishing a 30-day hold on any obligations to allow time for congressional review. These requirements will only act as a disincentive for private-sector innovators and DOD agencies to collaborate.

It is clear there is a campaign underway by entrenched, legacy IT incumbents to curtail, rather than expand, the use of OTAs. These incumbents are looking out for their bottom line, instead of focusing on helping agencies meet critical mission goals.

For additional information, see:

GAO Report GAO-16-696T, Federal Agencies Need to Address Aging Legacy Systems, 25 May 2016

GAO Report GAO-18-460T: Further Implementation of Recommendations Is Needed to Better Manage Acquisitions and Operations, 14 Mar 2018