NEWPORT, R.I. —
Through use of the Other Transaction Authority (OTA), the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Newport is continuing to ensure the Navy’s warfighters have the tools they need to succeed even with the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“OTA interest continues to grow,” said Tom Carroll, the program manager on the Division Newport side of the Undersea Technology Innovation Consortium (UTIC). “We had to cancel our last Industry Day in April due to COVID, but we still wanted to do a webinar with UTIC members.”
Carroll, along with Chris Kenney, the UTIC agreements officer for Division Newport and head of the head, Acquisition Policy and Oversight Division; Dr. Krista Michalis, an engineer at Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Division Carderock, who serves as the director of both the Capital City Tech Bridge and Navy Innovative Science and Engineering (NISE) program; and David Sracic, technical lead for Signature Guidance Systems at NSWC Carderock, conducted the webinar on July 9. Around 150 people logged on to hear what Carroll and his group had to say.
During the presentation, Carroll and Kenney discussed how OTAs have enabled effective, flexible and agile acquisitions for emerging research and prototyping of value to the Navy through streamlined and expedited processes. This effort has yielded a number of prototypes and fostered relationships with businesses who would not typically work with the government, leading to the formation of the UTIC.
Members of the UTIC are interested in the collaborative rapid development, testing and maturation of innovative technology, as well as supporting, maintaining and furthering educational outreach for technology. The OTA enables customers to leverage partnerships to increase flexibility and agility, reduce cost, improve technology and capability insertion, and decrease program development cycles.
The UTIC currently has more than 300 members across 35 states, 73% of which are non-traditional businesses and 70% are small businesses. More information on the UTIC is available at its website.
“NUWC Division Newport and UTIC have been leading the way with our OTA agreement,” Division Newport Technical Director Ron Vien said. “The results of the OTA are proof of the success of collaborating with our industry partners to advance the state of the art in undersea warfare.”
Carroll and Kenny opened the webinar by describing OTA and how it falls outside the spectrum of Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) contracting strategies.
“The primary reason for using OT authority is the government needs to obtain leading-edge prototypes and research and development (R&D) from commercial sources,” Carroll explained. “OTAs promote a more collaborative working relationship, which can be more conducive to R&D than the type of relationship established by a FAR contract.”
To facilitate these relationships between government and industry, the UTIC was formed in 2018 with a consortium management firm, Advanced Technology International (ATI), serving as liaison. To date, 31 UTIC awards have been made to 26 organizations in 10 states with a total value of $230.4 million.
These partnerships help to form a symbiotic relationship that leads to faster delivery of better and innovative solutions since there is more open communication between government and industry.
“OTAs offer a very unique advantage in that you can communicate with vendors and potential vendors relatively freely without the risk of a protest. This communication can be similar to how industry does technology investments in that you can clearly engage potential and current partners and articulate what is desired,” Carroll said. “Consistent and open communication free of the traditional restrictions allows you to become a more educated consumer and industry partners can adapt much more quickly to the dynamic development environment.”
OTAs also foster participation by innovative, non-traditional technology providers. As defined by 10 U.S.C. §2302(9), non-traditional defense contractors are, “an entity that is not currently performing or has not performed in the last one-year period preceding the solicitation of sources by the Department of Defense (DoD), any contract or subcontract for the DoD that is subject to full Cost Accounting Standard coverage.”
Typically, the government group headed by Carroll and Kenney sends out a request for prototype proposals biannually in April and October. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has necessitated the need for more ad-hoc proposals.
Only UTIC members can submit proposals and there needs to be at least one non-traditional defense contractor or nonprofit research institution participating to a significant extent in the prototype project. All significant participants in the transaction other than the federal government should be small businesses or non-traditional defense contractors.
Without significant participation of a non-traditional defense contractor or nonprofit research institution, a project can still be awarded under OTA if one-third of the project cost is provided as cost share unless the specific proposal request states otherwise. Teaming partners do not have to be UTIC members, but are encouraged to join the consortium.
These enhanced white-paper proposals are first submitted to ATI, who screens them for compliance and then forwards qualified submissions to the government for source selection. At this juncture, the government can either accept the proposal and award, decline to award or exercise a “basket” provision.
“The basket provision means being able to have a proposal that you don’t want to fund right away or can’t fund right away, you can put it on the shelf for up to three years,” Carroll said. “For example, you may have it in the basket so if the first proposal doesn’t work out, you can dust that off and award to them. Another example is if your budget falls through this year, you can go fund it in the next year.”
Over the past three years, OTAs have netted a number of significant prototypes. Some examples include an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) for environmental sensing, monitoring and prediction, bio-inspired underwater sensors, next generation power and energy, and artificial intelligence/machine learning data fusion.
“When Chris and I started this with Denise Abraham (head, Contracts Department at NUWC Headquarters) three years ago, there really wasn’t much of a guidebook,” Carroll said. “We’ve made a few mistakes along the way, but we’re also navigating the way ahead for NAVSEA and we’re sharing our lessons learned.”
Sracic closed the presentation by providing some examples of what he learned in using an OTA to solve a problem where a certain software they were using provided a solution about 80% of the time.
“There was this technology that we were using that was close, but not quite scratching that itch and we really need that extra 20%,” Sracic said. “We asked, ‘how can we get industry involved?’ We were really looking at OTA as a way to prototype that 20% we were missing.
“What it took on my end was a one-hour chat with Tom, a week of discussion with my engineering team for what it really was we wanted and then it took me about two days with the office door closed to turn it into a request. After a couple weeks with Tom and Chris, we had a pair of requests for proposals, got good, open competition and then after awarding, they were executing.”
Sracic noted that unlike in the past, he believed he could really talk to industry to see if the technology they were looking for already was available. Among his other lessons learned, Sracic noted that carefully crafting a statement of work, considering what happens if the product is very successful and giving thought to milestones that make sense are all critical.
NUWC Division Newport is a shore command of the U.S. Navy within the Naval Sea Systems Command, which engineers, builds and supports America’s fleet of ships and combat systems. NUWC Newport provides research, development, test and evaluation, engineering and fleet support for submarines, autonomous underwater systems, undersea offensive and defensive weapons systems, and countermeasures associated with undersea warfare.
NUWC Newport is the oldest warfare center in the country, tracing its heritage to the Naval Torpedo Station established on Goat Island in Newport Harbor in 1869. Commanded by Capt. Chad Hennings, NUWC Newport maintains major detachments in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Andros Island in the Bahamas, as well as test facilities at Seneca Lake and Fisher's Island, New York, Leesburg, Florida, and Dodge Pond, Connecticut.