There is a right way and a wrong way to do rapid acquisitions for the U.S. military. And the recent debacle over a $950 million internet cloud contract to an Amazon partner, later dramatically cut back by the Pentagon, underscores the wrong approach.
The contract made use of an innovation in federal procurement called other transaction authority, or OTA, which is designed to jump-start the slow weapons- and technology-buying process and rapidly develop prototypes for assessment by the military services. OTA-funded projects are vital to helping U.S. forces maintain their technological edge by allowing the military to tap into companies and universities not typically interested in working with excessively bureaucratic government agencies.
Oracle filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office, calling the cloud computing contract “an egregious abuse” of a streamlined acquisition process that was “shrouded in secrecy.” The opacity of the procurement left it open to charges of perceived favoritism. In the end, the Department of Defense slashed the contract ― to no more than $65 million ― and scaled back the scope.