Access to cutting-edge, commercial technology is vital for national security. To ensure service members have timely access to commercially available technology, the Defense Department is promoting the broader use of agile acquisition methods by training a corps of acquisition professionals on the Defense Innovation Unit’s acquisition process.
Recognizing the need to keep pace with rapid commercial development and adopt best practices by leveraging its Commercial Solutions Opening, the unit and the Defense Acquisition University have implemented the Immersive Commercial Acquisition Program.
Under the program, DOD acquisition personnel work alongside a unit contracting officer and project team, as well as commercial solution providers, on a variety of projects. Critical priority projects include future-generation wireless technology; rusted artificial intelligence and autonomy; space technology; renewable energy generation and storage; advanced computing and software; integrated sensing and cyber.
Participants are integrated into the unit’s daily work model, getting hands-on experience with the Commercial Solutions Opening, a competitive process to obtain solutions or new capabilities that directly solve DOD partner challenges. Four contracting officers from across the department were selected to participate in the program’s first cohort which launched in October 2022 as a twelve-month immersive program.
“I am incredibly proud of the first ICAP team. They have set a very high bar for future cohorts,” said Cherissa Tamayori, Defense Industrial Unit’s director of acquisition, referring to the first class. The class started last year and graduates in October.
“We’ve seen that the team has learned firsthand from this program how to leverage the other transaction authorities, how to acquire novel commercial technologies, and to be change agents in the use of flexible acquisition methods within their organizations,” Tamayori said.
An “other transaction” is a legal instrument that is not subject to the traditional Federal Acquisition Regulation. These transactions provide flexibility to leverage commercial business practices and lower the barrier to entry, which encourage nontraditional defense contractors to do business with the government.
Army Maj. Michael E. Gerbasi, a contracting officer, is currently in the program, supporting the unit’s cyber, energy and human services portfolio. Among the projects he worked on is a battery technology for electric vehicles in support of the department’s recently published Lithium Battery Strategy.
Before attending the program, Gerbasi said he had never used other transaction authorities; however, he has now learned how the Defense Industrial Unit leverages other transactions to quickly grant prototype awards in as few as 60-90 days.
“Most acquisition coursework culminates with a few case studies or a capstone project,” he added. “ICAP has allowed me to work alongside a dynamic group of agreement’s officers in support of DOD’s toughest energy and cyber challenges.”
According to Gerbasi, the program has helped better his understanding of the dynamics between Silicon Valley tech and government procurement, as well as how the other transactions authority can be leveraged to simplify the acquisition process and cut regulatory burdens.
“In many regards, we need these innovators and startups more than they need us,” said Gerbasi. “DIU’s proven CSO process and use of other transactions are making an incredible impact enticing nontraditional contractors to do business with DOD.”
After Gerbasi graduates in October, he will return to his contracting job at Army Contracting Command, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. “I’m excited to continue championing other transactions and to share the DIU model when I return to ACC,” said Gerbasi.
When asked why others should consider participating in next year’s cohort, Gerbasi responded, “Apply now. If you’re looking for exposure to OTs or to innovative commercial tech that will have incredible impacts to our country’s national defense, you need to apply now.”
Contracting professionals are encouraged to apply for next year’s Immersive Commercial Acquisition Program. Applications are being accepted now through July 7. Applicants must be permanent DOD GS-13/14 or NH-03/04 in the 1102 series, or active component military contracting officers in the grades of O-4/O-5.
Click here to learn more and apply.