Procuring science at the speed we need

ARLINGTON, VA. — Hot off the release of the new Science and Technology 2030 report, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is already making strides in improving its processes for managing research among its higher education and industry partners.

The Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) — the basic research office of AFRL and a strong participant in its relationships with universities — jumped into action by implementing a plan for cutting its average grant award time nearly in half.

Maj General Cooley has expressed his excitement for this initiative, even calling it “great progress.”

Col David Winebrener, AFOSR Acting Director, explains that this initiative formed in response to external feedback regarding late awards and internal frustrations with cumbersome acquisitions and business processes.

For nearly two years, AFOSR took a hard look at its process for awarding basic research grants using Six Sigma, a methodology of Continuous Process Improvement (CPI). CPI increases operational capabilities, agility, effectiveness and efficiency by applying proven techniques to all processes associated with fulfilling the Air Force mission.

Col Winebrener explains that the team agreed it was important to develop not just faster, but also cost-effective and risk-acceptable reforms for optimizing the grant award process

Key principles of Air Force CPI include improving flow and reducing waste within a process focusing on factors that degrade quality and effectiveness, identifying and overcoming process constraints and redesigning processes.

A team of experts from across AFOSR documented the end-to-end current state of the grant award process, determined the root cause for the main pain points and identified possible countermeasures. They found major time savings could be realized by realigning the grant award process with the Federal Acquisitions Regulations rather than the DoD Grant and Agreement Regulations, which could remove as many as 50 days from the combined proposal documentation review and confirmation negotiation stages of the process.

The team also identified delays caused by incomplete or inaccurate proposal cost and technical evaluations and proposed adding and training more quality assurance staff to review.

AFOSR began implementing the team’s recommendations in January 2019, and incorporated additional measures into the early discussions for creating AFRL’s new business management tool, Pega Systems.

Beginning with the 2019 open Broad Agency Announcement, posted on April 10, 2019, the new process for streamlined grant awards is in full effect. The goal is to increase the speed by which the Air Force procures the knowledge and science it needs to advance warfighting technology and develop innovative capabilities.