The COVID-19 crisis has required an all-hands-on-deck philosophy at all levels of government, and the new stimulus funds provide the resources for its fruition. From the recently-passed emergency stimulus package for COVID-19 response, the Department of Defense will receive $10.5 billion. About half will cover the Defense Health Program and TRICARE with a portion fulfilling paychecks for the National Guard.
$1.9 billion will pay for daily upkeep of equipment and essential repairs, part of efforts to ensure that the normal operation of national defense may continue unabated. The Pentagon’s use of these emergency funds will require efficient oversight and management. The executive branch has raised the financial thresholds that allow contracts to fall under the process for simplified acquisitions and micro-purchases, traditionally the short-term buys that require minimal paperwork.
The thresholds were enlarged for a simple reason: more of the DOD’s urgent, short-term acquisitions can happen more quickly.
New guidelines have been established to allow the DoD to procure needed items or services on a more short-term basis. Below certain thresholds for micro-purchases and simplified acquisitions, agencies are allowed to forego evaluating competing offers, though many have still maintained competition in a way that’s more flexible for contractors. Contractors have been able to submit one-page proposals in response to one-page lists of requirements, which minimizes red tape and paperwork. The DoD can take advantage of this streamlined competitive process for micro-purchases in many essential areas.
According to Dr. Steve Kelman, the Weatherhead Professor of Public Management at Harvard’s Kennedy School, agencies can harness competition for micro-purchases to help design “hiring plans to fill hard-to-recruit occupations” and “social media plans for emergency response,” as well as lab testing, software, document transcription and translation, and incremental procurements.
The stimulus package also included $1 billion in appropriated funds for future purchases under the Defense Production Act, yet those will require an Executive-led purchasing process that has yet to materialize.
In the meantime, the DoD can ensure a smooth process for the small procurements that will prepare the National Guard and medical researchers for bigger projects down the road. A more efficient process allows our public servants to do their number-one job of keeping Americans safe.