DIUx releases guidebook for developing tech quickly

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The Pentagon’s innovation center has developed a way to prototype technology faster — and now it’s sharing best practices for that method in a new guide released this week.

The Defense Innovation Unit Experimental has been using since June its so-called commercial solutions opening, which leverages acquisition authorities available to the whole Defense Department. Through the new method, terms and conditions of a contract for prototyping are negotiable, which allows DIUx to work with companies to settle on terms that suit both them and the department, said Lauren Schmidt, pathways director at DIUx, at a Center for a New American Security event Wednesday in Washington.

[Read more: Carter: DIUx armed with new method to develop tech faster]

DIUx created the guide to share its experience deploying the method so far, Schmidt said.

“It’s not enough that DIUx ourselves is successful, and for us to really kind of drive culture change we need momentum,” Schmidt said. “And that’s what we’re working on now.”

The commercial solutions opening also allows the unit to bring in new work more quickly, Schmidt said. As an example, under this new approach to coordinate defense acquisition, DIUx signed an agreement in just 31 days with a company called Halo Neuroscience, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in July.

“There’s value for everyone in being able to start with a problem set and a few parameters rather than having to meet a specific laundry list of predetermined and sometimes rigid capability requirements, which is how it usually works in defense acquisition,” Carter said then. “With DIUx, companies get the freedom to engage in the discovery process, which is often the most interesting part, and customers get more innovative solutions.”

After a rocky start littered with criticism from Congress and a subsequent organizational restructuring in May, DIUx reported in October a successful fourth quarter, awarding 12 agreements totaling $36.3 million.

[Read more: Restructured DIUx leads $36M in Q4 investments]

“We’ve been able to demonstrate through the CSO over the past six months or so that DoD can move at the speed of business and be an attractive customer to these companies,” said Schmidt on Wednesday.

But that success hasn’t resolved all lingering congressional concerns for the DIUx. Around the time it announced the playbook the conference report for the annual defense authorization bill was also released, and it came with some serious funding caveats for the program.

Research, development, test and evaluation funding for DIUx will be slashed by 75 percent and operations and maintenance funding by 20 percent unless Defense Secretary Ash Carter submits a report to congressional defense committees that addresses some of their concerns, according to the conference report on the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act released this week.

[Read more: Three-quarters of DIUx funding under fire in authorization bill]

When asked if Congress thinks DIUx should continue, Bill Greenwalt, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s professional staff said Wednesday that the agency has the committee’s support, but there is still a learning curve “on what DIUx is supposed to do.”

“Someone needs to start driving some of these acquisition reforms,” he said, noting that if not DIUx, then someone else. “I don’t see anybody else on the horizon at the moment.”

During the panel discussion Greenwalt also gave DIUx credit for taking initiative on using the authorities Congress granted the entire Defense Department.

Schmidt said DIUx is hoping the new guide will encourage more widespread use of that authority across the department.

“By spreading this across the department we’re hoping that we can really drive acquisition innovation across DOD,” she said.

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Department of Defense (DOD), Departments
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