Building The Base

The podcast features Lauren Bedula, Hondo Geurts, Whitney McNamara and Pete Modigliani discussing national security, the future of innovation in Natsec and how the private industry can support the growth of the industrial network.  Whitney & Pete are both members of the Atlantic Council and share their experience in both Government service and in the private sector highlighting how to be a good rebel in big institutions, remaining intellectually curious in your career and the importance of exposure to multiple points of view early in your career.  The conversation touches on the changing landscape of national security and the integration of commercial technology in National Defense. The guests discuss the challenges faced in collaboration between the private sector and the defense community, including policy and cultural barriers. 

Lauren, Hondo discuss with today's guest:
  1. Getting started in the national security arena.
  2. Transforming the acquisition process.
  3. Barriers to collaboration with DOD.
  4. Adoption of new technology.
  5. The Currency of Good Ideas.
  6. Tension between the commercial sector and the DOD.
  7. Leveraging the tech talent and culture of defense prime.

What is Building The Base?

"Building the Base" - an in-depth series of conversations with top entrepreneurs and leaders from tech, financial, industrial, and public sectors.

Our special guests are weighing in on a broad selection of topics such as: shaping our future national security industrial base, leadership in challenging times, experiences related to the intersection of business and national security, and personal anecdotes related to their positions of influence.

Building the base is hosted by our own BENS member Lauren Bedula who is the Managing Director and National Security Technology Practice Lead at Beacon Global Strategies, and BENS Distinguished Fellow, Jim "Hondo" Geurts who retired from performing the duties of the Under Secretary of the Navy and former Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development & Acquisition.

BENS Intro 00:02
Business executives for national security welcomes you to building the base here thought leaders and practitioners discuss how we can ensure our shared security and prosperity. They're shaping the future of the national security industrial base, your hosts or Silicon Valley defense expert, Lauren Bedula, along with Ben's Distinguished Fellow and former head of acquisition for the Navy, Marines and special operators, Hondo Geurts.

Lauren Bedula 00:30
Welcome back to building the base, Lauren Bedula, here with Hondo Geurts and so excited to have actually two guests with us today. Whitney McNamara and Pete Modigliani, who are both defense tech and acquisition experts just finished a really interesting study with the Atlantic Council on just that figuring out how to bring more innovation and disruptive tech into the Department of Defense. So we'll talk a little bit about that today. But also their backgrounds, both in service time at DOD, traveling the world, and what really drove them to work on these topics. So Whitney, and Pete, thanks so much for joining us today.

Whitney McNamara 01:06
Thanks for having us.

Hondo Geurts 01:08
So it's great to have you guys here with us. Now normally, we have these many of our guests late in their career in the sunset years, so to speak, and, and talk about all the things they did and now what they're doing when they're having fun. But we now like having also a lot of the young guns, you know, in the working part of the department and the ecosystem, tell us a little bit about yourselves kind of where you're at in what got you into the national security arena to start out with.

Whitney McNamara 01:38
Yeah, so my story about how I got involved in this field is sort of roundabout, which I think most people are the same way. I was always really interested in science went to engineering camp as a kid studied science in college, but really lacked imagination about what I could do with it. I thought you studied poli sci, you went to law school, you studied neuroscience. You went to work in a lab and those things weren't interesting to me. So after a few years of studying science, I actually changed my major to poli sci. As someone you know, that grew up very as a young teenager when 911 happened. I think that's what brought a lot of us to the city suddenly became aware of the world international relations. I read a lot about it. I didn't realize you could make a career out of it necessarily. So my last year of college changed majors finished a major and a minor in two semesters. Graduated when well, I've got no real experience. I've spent a lot of my time in college working in labs, and doing science research. What's what's sort of my What do I have to provide this field, not a lot of much at the point. So I decided to go move abroad pretty haphazardly. I ended up living in the Middle East for four and a half years. Our Arab Spring broke out six months after I got there. So I worked with a lot of local civil society organizations doing something totally different, obviously, than I do now. But really, my ultimate goal was to come back and work for the government. So I was trying to get international experience language experience working with non governmental and government organizations to come back, came back, went to grad school and six weeks into my defense class, I went, This is it. I really love defense. This is important. Defense Policy has never been framed this way before and really, really loved it. And it wasn't until I got my first job at the Center for Strategic and budgetary assessments after grad school, and got put on some tech projects that I really felt like I just, you know, round hole round peg, I was like, This is it. And I just think it's really funny. It took me 10 years, but I really came full circle to the same reasons that science was so appealing to me about applications and solving problems. It was funny that 10 years later, I took a bit of a detour. But I ended up sort of finding my niche in defense Tech had a lot of great experience supporting contracts with DOD, tech policy, tech acquisition challenges, how do you integrate emerging technologies into concept operations and all that fun challenges that come with it? Went into DOD to see if I could walk the walk and not just you know, write those recommendations from outside of government, which anyone that works for DOD knows is a whole different ballgame. And I also got a chance to work at the Defense Innovation Board leading the s&t portfolio. And then most recently, Pete and I were working on the Atlantic Council commission on Defense Innovation adoption, which really has a similar mandate to the Defense Innovation Board, right? commercial sector tech is important. How do we better adopt it, you know, for military and technological competition. So that's the quick, maybe two minute version of sort of how I ended up in this field. I

Lauren Bedula 04:38
love it and be interested in digging into your story, especially the acquisition focus, too, because you've become one of the I think most well known defense acquisition experts in town to so overdue up.

Pete 04:50
Thanks. Yeah, I'm a big acquisition or 25 years doing DoD acquisition. I did Air Force ROTC with my undergrad got an engineering degree and my commander was a Um, longtime acquisition professionals, he says, hey, you know, you know, check out acquisition and then also Hanscom Air Force Base outside of Boston. So I got my first choice for both of those and, you know, started off as Program Manager with the Air Force working large aircraft systems, major IT systems. And one thing that still stood out to me was early on, you know, you could track physician training, and then you get the textbooks. And at the bottom, it says, this is for training only don't use in the real world. And I said, okay, so where's the guidance, where's the resources for acquisition professionals to use in the real world to navigate this complex bureaucracy, and there really wasn't any. So I even had the opportunity early on to get involved with working with industry, Lockheed. And then we had tech companies, Microsoft and Oracle and Sun Microsystems at the time, we built a C to portal prototype, B to G process where industry can share their capabilities, and the Air Force can share their their needs the demand signal, and foster collaboration. It's a little early to need. But I think, you know, 20 years later, there's still a demand signal for that came to DC cutwork Air Force acquisition headquarter staff navigating a lot of a major superstar systems through the Pentagon bureaucracy, of acquisition processes, and the budget process, gotten bogged with some of the policy aspects, and really got to see firsthand, you know, the bureaucracy, the amount of time it took that, you know, you get a major review delayed, that drove years of delays, and then you weren't spending your funding. And then there was, you know, the ripple effects. So we just said there had to be a better way. And then it's been 12 years at MITRE working across DOD, and the intel community really got to do major things like transforming the acquisition process, the old 5000 textbook model into the adaptive acquisition framework. So six dynamic pathways, you know, get to middle tier, which is rapid prototyping, rapid fielding software acquisition pathway. So you're baking in agile and devsecops processes, and really, you know, transform how we do business. But longtime advocate for the acquisition workforce, so he's writing a thought pieces on portfolio management. So I'm grateful for the opportunities here.

Lauren Bedula 07:14
So your study at the Atlantic Council hits on a lot of the reasons why we started this show, which is we think it's more important for the commercial tech community to be working closely with the defense and national security communities, looking at ways to strengthen it hurdles that stand in the way etc. I'm curious, on the heels of that work, what your take was, as some of the biggest barriers or problems to that smoothes collaboration.

Pete 07:43
So we know that the there's huge barriers in doing business with DOD, you know, even a prime, so the established primes still struggle, but for for the small tech companies that, you know, they have the innovative technology, there's decades of bureaucracy that built up on how to do business with DOD. So it's identifying where the right opportunities are, who can use your technology, understanding all the complex processes, litany of contracting the burdens of cost accounting systems and cmmc cybersecurity compliance, it's a huge burden for, you know, emerging tech companies to just identify the opportunities to navigate the processes, and then the long timelines from, you know, identifying an opportunity to when you're actually gonna get funding. When tech companies worried about cash flow for the next few months, they can't wait 18 months for DOD to make a decision, and then finally get some awards. So there's a number of challenges there.

Whitney McNamara 08:39
I think a big one for me was the sort of limited understanding of tech from the department. And that's not a knock on the department, anyone that's ever worked there knows they're constantly putting out fires, some insanely smart people work there, it's not really their job, right to stay on the cutting edge of technology, tech, horizon scanning, these are all things that take a tremendous amount of time, and energy and resources. And so typically, what you would see is, organizations creating requirements that were not based on the state of the art of the technology that was potential in the commercial sector. So you'd get companies that were confined to old requirements. Or two, there's a lot of shaping that needs to be done in terms of like you'd like to solve this problem this way, it actually can be solved cheaper, more efficiently, in this whole new way, or using an even a completely different technology. And so I think to that kind of problem solving is never going to land on the department in and of itself, similarly to the fact that commercial companies are never going to understand the unique considerations that they need to consider when they're deploying with warfighters. And so to me, it's always going to be a two way street and helping to inform one another. I think in the past, it sort of seemed like the department is great. You want to work with the department and you know industries coming to them. I think now it's more of a two way street of where there's that flow of information. One that helps inform each other's requirements, each other's development. And that makes both of them much better off.

Hondo Geurts 10:06
So I think too many times this has been framed as a technology problem. Like, we don't have the technology to do this or that or get a requirement done. And, and I think the Atlantic commission kind of aptly noted, it was more of an adoption problem. The technology existed whether in a government lab or in a commercial Institute, what's your sense on practical things both sides could be doing in the next three months, not, you know, read changing law or authorities in the next three months, that would help us work through this adoption problem, and ultimately get things into the field more quickly.

Whitney McNamara 10:46
I'll start off by saying one of the biggest things I noticed was, that commission didn't want to be a good idea fairy. And I think in this city, good ideas can be a currency. And we really reward people that are smart and forward thinking. But I think at the end of the day, if you can't implement the good idea, it's not worth a whole lot. And so I think, too, instead of saying, like, do more commercial tech, or commercial tech, good, or DI, you could do more of that, right? It's like, how does this really work? And we really spend a lot of time thinking about that. It's like, okay, this the best is a good idea. Does the person receiving the good idea? Have the authorities to implement it? Do they have the resources to carry it out? Will it be clear to them based off of their job, what they're actually intended to do with this recommendation? Who else would have benefit that might that should also get involved? And so we thought a lot about like, we love this idea. We think it's impactful. But we were painstaking in that, like, would this an acquisition official know how to execute this? Would this change, incentivize a business to enter a new market that they wouldn't have otherwise? So we thought a lot about from a 360 degree angle, and whether folks would actually be able to execute on it.

Pete 11:57
A lot of it is how do you get past the prototype to get to that production at scale? One of the big drivers was long timelines for the ppbe process. So we're not gonna overhaul PPE, but we talked about getting a little bit of the flexibility, really wanted to push more portfolio management. So break down the barriers of, you know, 1000s of individual stovepipe programs, and give POS give, you know, portfolio managers a little flexibility to shift funding around that, as tech emerges, as some, you know, new threat emerges that you need to react to, that you have that flexibility to then say, right, there was a great prototype coming out of DARPA, of industry, that I want to either integrate into a major system or scale out. So it's breaking down those barriers, you know, it's gonna be requirements acquisition and budget, the your, hey, what can we do in three months? Some of these aren't quick fixes. But the real focus we wanted to do was, this is going to be a two to three year effort to, you know, turn the carrier, it's, what are some specific actionable recommendations we could do to break down those barriers?

Hondo Geurts 12:59
And how is the report been received? Or you guys said another study that's, you know, noted in the early bird and then put away or, or have you found traction in, in folks actually trying to understand and implement pieces of it? Well, it's

Whitney McNamara 13:15
funny, when we first started this, we had ideas and we started iterating on them. And then we started socializing them early with folks across DOD and the hill. And I used to say, at the head of all of those meetings, you know, we're on this commission defensive option, but this is really it, guys, this is going to be the one that solves all of our problems, just a nod to the fact that like, we wanted to be humble about this, right, we're not the first one to address this problem. We hopefully we're not the last. But we wanted to have that humility. We didn't want to come in and say, here are big ideas, you know, thank us for them, right? We really wanted to make sure again, that they were informed by the real problems people were having. And I think that's paid out in dividends, because I do think we've given folks what a successful implementation looks like we have successful vignettes of what this might look like, carried out. And we've been really thankful to see the impact that it's had. And oh, Pete has a lot of great factoids about who's been sort of briefing that out or making sure that it gets implemented even ahead of the NDAA.

Pete 14:14
Yeah, we're very excited how well it's been received. And you know, it all starts with our co chairs, Secretary Mark Esper, and former Secretary Deborah Lee James, that really said Make it tight, make it actionable. It was, you know, the bulk of the papers, 14 pages, so it's not another 100 page report that no one's going to read. 10 clearly actual recommendations. And as we were building it, you know, it was the act of engagement with all four congressional defense committees, all the key players within the Pentagon, and then we had strong industry engagement as well. So getting that buy in upfront was key. And then with the rollout, it's been active engagements with each each members of the hill, we've seen trapped in da language we've seen you know, a dozen different reports and articles and op eds, from some from the commissioner, some from other external experts, and there's really a surge behind it. Congressional chairmen are talking to Sachdev about it. DEP sec, Def has a whole internal group working on each of the recommendations and reacting to them. We've seen some some, you know, broad support for implementing them. And a lot of it comes down to be implementing the good ideas, not just getting a report of yet another report of good ideas out there.

Lauren Bedula 15:23
And as someone who tracks these reports, I think it was incredible how quickly you came out with recommendations and again, how specific they were with draft legislation, key stakeholders identified a lot of left with lessons learned just with the format of the approach to that. So it doesn't end up to just be another report on the shelf. Something that comes up on our show quite often is the role that just cultural barriers play in adoption of new tech taking risks to bring in new companies, external players, P, I'm curious for your take on how prevalent these cultural issues are in the acquisition community, and how maybe we can help incentivize taking risk a little bit better, or, and Whitney, you should chime in here as well, how often this came up in your studies with the report to just as cultural issue,

Pete 16:14
cultural Central, central to the issues, we have a lot of authorities when you when you look at the acquisition professionals, so it's easy to beat up the program manager if you did something stupid. And therefore we need to put more policy more legislation to and more oversight to then dictate, people don't repeat those same mistakes. And that compounding issue I've seen, you know, a lot of good acquisition innovators leave, just because the crushing amount of oversight, the regulation, the compliance, you know, your program slips three months, all sudden, you're getting, you know, phone calls from OSD, or GAO or Congress, you know, and that builds on a program manager, there are many who are want to lean forward, they see the emerging tech out there. But they're constrained, they have a locked down requirements document budget document, a program baseline. So when new tech merges, they can't react to that. So we really wanted to break down, you know, the barriers within the programs, but then importantly, with the culture to then say, it is good to lean forward experiment, you know, there's, you know, do rapid prototyping, and embrace a higher failure rate, you're not going to be successful all the time. But keep experimenting, push the envelope, and then when something hits when it's successful, then scale it out. And it's changing the environment. And, you know, we really pushed on delegating decision authorities, empowering PEOs and program managers to react more tailor in the processes they need. But there's an ongoing battle within dc of, you know, the control and oversight. And as programs screw up, we need to impose more burdens. And that's just going to compound the problem. I'd say, too,

Whitney McNamara 17:52
we had a lot of discussions about this. And the ultimate goal to commission right was to write legislation that would get in the NDAA. And we kept thinking, like, it's really hard to legislate culture, right. And we also very much acknowledge that a lot of successful innovation, anecdotes really could be tied back sometimes to individual personalities, someone that was charismatic, really cared, and just like put things over the finish line, you know, through sheer will. And so that was actually typically the exception and not the rule. And what I found to with authority, is that it's actually not just the acquisition officials, I think it's even very senior officials in DOD. And I think this is where we see some tension between maybe the commercial sector and DOD, which is, I think they're not empowered as much as they would like to be either. And so, you know, sometimes when we went into meetings, and we told people what we were doing, folks got a bit defensive, and they're like, Well, I'm trying, and these are the things that are constricting me. And like, we know, we know. And our goal is not to point a finger and say, do it better. We have all the solutions, we're trying to understand your problems, we can better empower you. So it's definitely across the organization. But particularly the acquisition officials, but I think a lot of folks are feeling it. And that's what we were hoping also to accomplish too.

Hondo Geurts 19:09
So I think in our last young gun session, I was called something either a T Rex or a dinosaur or Lauren observed, you know, one was not like the others at the table here. So you know, is this old folks who, you know, clear out room for the young guns? Are you sensing from your peers? 911 brought a lot of folks into government, and then it kind of waned a little bit? Are you sensing a lot of your friends? Peers are interested in national security and is there kind of a rebirth of folks in there? Or do they just look at it and say, Wow, that's really interesting, but really hard to get our head around. We're gonna kind of do our own thing, which What's your sense when you guys are out and about?

Whitney McNamara 19:56
I think the interest is still there. I think it'll always have been flow but I think It's still there. I think national security will always be interesting. I just think national security as a field is totally opaque. And so typically, when I get like coffees with people in grad school or just had a college, they're like, Well, I want to be a China expert at the State Department. And I'm like, there are a million ways you can join this quote unquote, China competition, right, in terms of like, is it looking at sanctions at Treasury is the Department of Energy looking at advanced like, like quantum is, you know what I mean, there are so many ways to plug into this challenge. And it reminds me of me, who lacked a bit of imagination about how to do so. And so I think we should just as national security professionals be putting a bit more transparency into the kind of skills we need, which are very wide ranging, and where folks can plug in and be really useful. There's a lot more places than the Pentagon to work. And even within the Pentagon, there's such a diversity of ways that people can be useful. So I think that's also really important is just continuing to sort of explain to folks, all the levers in the ecosystem of national security, even if it's industry, nonprofits, think tanks, and where they they could plug in.

Pete 21:04
Yeah, I do see a resurgence, that the last few years, that was a whole realm of empowered officials, so you know, back when you and your peer SAE, Under Secretary Lord as the acquisition executive, they really empowered, you know, middle tier go rapid, go fast, you know, software acquisition, and it was a different environment from the old textbook approach for for the last 30 years. So it really encourage folks to experiment with new technology, see what's out there, do a broader outreach to you know, the defense tech companies, there's some some breathtaking stuff in AI and autonomy coming out. And, you know, now we've pivoted from the Middle East to the Indo Pacific region, people are appreciating the threat more. So I think they see more the opportunity space, it is an exciting adventure, you know, for at an early age to, you know, put together some, you know, some pretty major defense capabilities and have an impact to our fighting forces is a powerful motivator. So I think the recent resurgence across the country.

Hondo Geurts 22:08
So we, we had a previous guest, Nick Sinai, who just came out with the book hacking your bureaucracy, I often talk about, you know, being a good rebel, versus a bad rebel, right, you know, and you both are well established good rebels in big institutions, what's your, what's your tips for how to be a good rebel, whether you're in a commercial industry or nonprofit or behemoth like the DOD, what what gets you fired up to Rage Against the Machine, but in a positive way, on a daily basis?

Pete 22:42
It's all about the mission, you know, how do we, you know, enable delivery of better solutions faster, we absolutely have to accelerate capability deliveries, we can't wait until the 2030s for our major weapon systems to be delivered, given the threats in the Indo Pacific region. So what can we deliver in the next few years aqui to many small things, for navigating the bureaucracy. A lot of times, it's Keep your head down. Not everybody can hide behind, you know, a classified environment. But the more you can, you know, move out, you know, get some rapid prototypes, deliver, demonstrate a minimum viable product, get something in the hands of warfighters, quickly, let them react to it, this is awesome, go get me more of it. And you have that demonstrated success is going to be much more effective than I put together a PowerPoint deck for a strategy that in seven, eight years, I may deliver something. So it's really, you know, working with the key stakeholders, understanding where the rapid opportunities are. So you know, everyone's been using middle tier of acquisition or other transaction authority for a contracting alternative approach. And that's coming with some increased scrutiny. But I said, Keep experimenting with it. You know, one of the key tenants for the new adaptive acquisition framework is tailor in. So don't put the full burden of a major defense program on onto your small effort, tailoring for what makes sense for the unique aspects of your program. If buying from your leadership, get active stakeholder buy in, and then have clear clarity of your purpose, what's the objective you're trying to achieve? And if you can get by in on that, then you can get greater participation from, you know, the traditional bureaucrats or impediments to, you know, say this, what we're trying to do, you know, balance the speed with rigor, so you can't say, Hey, we gotta go fast. I'm just gonna skip test, that's not going to fly. But you can say, hey, we want to do a risk based test. We're going to test these three high priority areas, get something out there quickly, and then iterate, and then you can get better buying that approach.

Whitney McNamara 24:44
I think just like Pete said, I mean, like Lorna note always laughs at this. I would say, give a damn I'll say another word, but my dad would kill me if I curse on a podcast. So but really just caring and I think feeling personally invested in the outcomes knowing it's important and feeling I'm personally best in the outcomes. But I'd also say to like maintaining intellectual curiosity. Don't ever be satisfied with what you think you know about a problem. I think too, that's when you become too pigeon holed. And you see one problem one way, I think, especially in this field, things are changing so quickly. And so always be willing to hear people that are experts on peripheral topics. I think the the challenges are dynamic, and the solutions have to be dynamic. So you should always be trying to learn more as well and not get too comfortable with what you think you know about a certain topic.

Lauren Bedula 25:31
We all have the pleasure of working together now on the private sector side. But you've had interesting paths so far that hit on the intersection between the private sector, public sector and NGOs involved. Do you have any advice to our listeners who are hoping to set out on a career path similar to yours? Whitney, I'm curious, how did you get that first job in government or any thoughts on how folks can do that, and then Pete, to any thoughts about how to stay engaged as an expert and the community that bounces around with each of those different stakeholders, so maybe Whitney will start with you.

Whitney McNamara 26:05
I think one thing that people should keep in mind is don't discount the skills that aren't super relevant to the career you're trying to pivot to. Obviously, I lived in the Middle East for several years. But that taught me a lot of skills about project management, living and working in in, you know, difficult environments. And so I think you can absolutely take that to your your next role. It doesn't have to be like, I am the expert on Chinese sanctions to get a job with Chinese sanctions, like people are looking for good writers, they're looking for folks that can staff really well anticipate problems are good problem solvers, right? These are all universal across whatever career, I also think it's helpful early in your career to have experienced at least two or three different types of organizations, whether that's industry government, a think tank, and that could even be in a summer internship. But I think to write to understand how to be helpful national security, it's really helpful to understand the ecosystem, not just what what think tanks do, not just what industry does, not just what the hill does, but how they all sort of work together. I think that can make you really lethal in your career, just understanding the mechanics of it. And so the more exposure to I think, is helpful.

Pete 27:14
Yeah, absolutely, you know, early in your career, and you're planning your 20s, good exposure, you know, many organizations, many fields, many areas of expertise, or project management contracting test in the like, you know, when you're in the acquisition workforce, 90% of it civilian, so everyone thinks, you know, you're going to be a military officer, but most of its civilian, who tend to stay at a single base single location for longer periods of their career. Get that exposure to various programs, where you can, you know, do a tour with diu, do a education with industry, get exposed to different environments, especially earlier in your career. And then you could start focusing whether you're in a software centric, or you know, space or aircraft, and then get, you know, a deeper focusing in later parts in your career. But definitely take advantage of a wide range of education with industry and other partnership opportunities.

Lauren Bedula 28:10
And a benefit to that approach is access to so many people you can learn from, we talked about how mentors are so important for setting folks on the right career paths. Can you talk about how you factor mentors into your own path? Or maybe how you think about helping others through mentorship as well? Has that been a big role in your success to date?

Pete 28:33
Absolutely. You know, I've had great mentors along the way. One really guided me on, you know, changing, changing organizations getting, you know, getting involved, where with where my passion is. And then we always try to give back, you know, always try to, you know, teach the younger generation, you know, advice in guest lectures and podcasts and webinars to really educate the workforce on the opportunity space, then novel approaches to act bureaucracy, and navigate the process.

Whitney McNamara 29:04
Yeah, I've been lucky to have folks I've worked with and mentors that were, I think, some of the smartest people I've ever met. And so I think that's, I thought, I always tell people like, you should be not for your next job, you should think about who your boss is. And if you have a good boss, a smart Boss, you're always going to learn a ton. I think when I was in grad school, we'd have people that came in that had really exciting careers, and people would say, Well, how did you get there? And then I just worked really hard at whatever job I had. And then someone picked me and we're like, no, what's really the secret? Right? But that really now you know, now, you know, into my career, it really is the thing, do a good work, no matter where you are? demonstrate value, and you're always gonna get more interesting work. There really isn't a secret other than be excellent at whatever job you have now, even if it's not the job of your dreams, and that will really go a long way.

Hondo Geurts 29:54
Yeah, the bloom where you're planted is, you know, it's one of those universal things. So Oh, you've been slaving away at this Atlanta and council commission report, you guys are in rebels in your own way, and talk a lot about what has to happen on the government side of things. But I think the strength of that activity was also intersections with, you know, a broad range of, you know, traditional. And then, you know, commercial startup venture back startup, which, what advice would you give to the companies, particularly new entrants don't want to do work in the DOD, you know, there's some things we can do, and we can do better, but it's always going to be, you know, a bit of a bureaucracy. What do you tell them when they say, okay, B, you know, I hear you, and I love you like a brother. I'm in now what, uh, what should I do tomorrow to, to set me on the right course doing work? You know, whether it's with the DoD or the government, kind of institutions?

Pete 30:55
Yeah, I think the key is understanding the what DoD demand signals are, what problems can you help them solve? And laying out, you know, and similar what you do for industry. But what were the challenges, we're trying to do an Indo Pacific, hey, we need to do maritime awareness to, you know, see everything that's out there? Well, there are many commercial solutions that, you know, we can put to that fight. So getting a deep understanding of where, where the operational challenges are, what's out there today, you know, we're operating most of the major weapon systems are 30 years old, they're falling apart, there's only so much duct tape to go around the department. So we need a lot of new systems, greater interoperability, that's always a challenge across the department across the joint force, including working with allies. But having that deeper understanding, and then having more of an open systems approach where you can integrate where you can plug into other systems for greater interoperability, and then bake in cybersecurity from the start, you can have the perfect solution. But if an adversary can hack it right out of the gate, then you've shot yourself in the foot. And testers will be kicking the tires to make sure. So you can't have that at the 11th hour as a add in, you got to pick cybersecurity. And from my front,

Hondo Geurts 32:12
there's a interesting piece about there's actually multiple valleys of death. Alright, it's not just going from prototype to production, it's from, you know, getting over resilience the department needs, and then being able to scale reproduction, the technology that's useful at scale, and its use useful and in a, in a prototype. So Whitney, what's your thoughts? You've, you've spent a lot of time thinking on the technology side, we get fascinated by technology, but not necessarily get tremendously accomplished at fielding technology.

Whitney McNamara 32:51
To me, it's not it goes back to the good idea piece, I think you can have an amazing technology. But if you don't have the appreciation, or willing to learn about where it plugs in very uniquely, to DOD missions are the unique considerations that you need to think about. If it's going to be deployed with an end user, I think it's going to be a really tough fit. I think some of the most successful folks are those that are very clear eyed about the challenges. But they're so stubbornly focused on mission that they don't see it as a deterrence. They're just like, okay, so how do we solve that one? Okay, how do we solve the next one. And so again, like that humility to know that this is hard, this sometimes is a longer practice, and it would be in the commercial sector. But we're so excited. And we see this vision for how this can be really, really helpful. And this matters to us. And they push through,

Lauren Bedula 33:38
Does anything come to mind about what the private sector can do better with this issue? We talked about reform on the government side, but I'm curious and advice to companies who are listening, maybe best practices on the industry side or areas for improvement?

Whitney McNamara 33:52
I think a big one. And this is hard, because I know commercial sector businesses, too, especially small ones, they all have a bottom line, everyone wants to stay in business, everyone's looking at payroll. I think making sure that what you're saying can be trusted in the long term and is not meant for a short term sale, I think ultimately serves companies well, especially because a lot of these companies have tech that's beyond what the department currently has, the department might not be ready to adopt it. It might not be ready to run out no even how like, how would I use this? Right? I haven't developed a concept operation around it. I don't have requirements for it. And so I think folks need to understand when to position yourself as a trusted adviser. Okay, you're not going to buy a quantum computer tomorrow. But if you were in the next couple of years, here's what we think you should be looking for and why. And I think too in the long term people appreciate, again, that two way street of being fed information. Everyone at DOD is very short on bandwidth. So any resources information you can be providing them being their eyes and ears for best practice commercial sector things to look out for them. Is that are changing in the industry, I think is really, really appreciated.

Lauren Bedula 35:04
How about any changes on the partnership landscape? Are you seeing more of an appetite for industry to come together the traditional primes with new entrants, or any thoughts on the partnership side,

Pete 35:15
that's a huge opportunity space that we'd love to see a greater growth in. Historically, the defense prime has been resistant to working with some of the tech startups, I think that trend has changed in the last year or two. Some of the major defense primes are having significant software issues. So absolutely tap the software, you know, startups and leading software companies that have that tech talent that had the top software, you know, software experts that are coming out of the top universities, and leverage their talent leveraged culture, leverage the environment, it's a huge challenge, it goes back to that culture, you know, the culture and incentives of the primes are drastically different from that of, you know, major software companies. But we absolutely need greater partnerships, greater alignment, you know, whether it's the software for embedded software, some for some of the major weapon systems, and even teaching the defense primes, you know how to do business differently, but absolutely want to leverage that. And then across system interoperability. So if you can have a common software solution, a common AI solution and plug that into multiple systems, that's going to make pay huge dividends in interoperability down the road.

Hondo Geurts 36:26
So you both should be really proud of the hard work on the commission. You're now king and queen for the day. Or the next two SAE is for the two of our departments running acquisition organizations. What What would you do? What could we do in the art of the possible that would make a big difference here going forward so that we actually succeed, and all the endeavors and challenges we have ahead of us.

Whitney McNamara 36:55
The ethos behind the commission was really thinking, looking at our traditional budget cycles. And if we all agree that we're looking at a potential China conflict in the next three to five years, that leaves us one to two budget cycles. And if we were to come up with something really sophisticated platform that would solve all of our deterrence issues in Asia to tomorrow, we still wouldn't have time to build it and procure it. And so a lot of this, too, is then so what can we be doing in the commercial sector in the short term, to provide us an advantage if that conflict were to break out or to increase deterrence in the interim. And so in that vein, I would say, the bridge fund recommendation, which is really on the eyes of we do all this great experimentation, we have all these amazing operational exercises. And despite that, at the end of it, when we say that was really great, or even like a project convergence, that was really great. You know, vendor 123 really made us a huge difference in our ability to operate, they still have to go through some of the, the palm process, if it's joined, they have to go to the D mag process, like a raider. And so to we're just not getting that advantage. Now. It's out there, it's in front of our faces, it's been proven and demonstrated, and yet we still can't buy it. And so in the paper, we recommend one bridge fund, but I actually think almost every major organization could be given one, you could have one for r&d, CDO, pay comm and that sort of gives them the ability to say, here are the five things that could make me give me an advantage, I want to buy them and scale them in the next, you know, 12 to 18 months. And to me moving out on on more procurement over r&d In that short term, would give me a lot more peace of mind about a future conflict.

Pete 38:33
My day one thing is portfolio management. I think that's the huge game changer that will unlock so many more opportunities. Right now we have POS brought 60 pos across the DOD. They manage program executive officers, and they manage, you know, anywhere from 50 to 200 stovepipe programs. And they're just seeing the over overseeing the execution of these against the program baselines. I want to break that down and enable them to deliver integrated suites of capability. So starting from requirements and say, you know, not just an old JSON document that gets locked down for 10 years, but write a portfolio level requirements document to say, what are the operational needs? What are the performance measures you want us to keep moving the needle on, and that will help not only shape acquisition programs, but then shape research both through DOD and industry. from a budget perspective, again, it's greater flexibility, merge some of the poor program elements together, so you have some flexibility that you couldn't project two to three years out, and you could shift money around but it's still staying within that broader capability area. Then the sweet spot is in acquisition. So I'm gonna write better order portfolio acquisition strategies, contract strategies architectures, that says I want a vibrant, industrial base, large primes, startups, traditional non traditional, and increased competition for all the major contracts all the work where they can all contribute their ideas into an open architecture. It's gonna revitalize how we do business as new tech emerges across the valley of death portfolio is going to be able to integrate that more effectively. So that's gonna pay huge dividends down the road. And really, you know, continue to iterate to focus on what the combatant commands need in theater, as you know, with greater integration, greater interoperability, and then, you know, focus our investments for that greater mission impact.

Lauren Bedula 40:25
Well, on that note, because it was such a great call to action with real ideas that we can implement, want to say thank you for all the energy you've put into these issues. We're looking forward to helping you continue to amplify what can be done in the short term. And also really appreciate you taking the opportunity to share your stories so that we can have more folks follow in your paths because again, at the end of the day, talent is key here. It's not just the technology but the people who will make a difference. So thanks for taking the time to share your stories.

Pete 40:56
Thanks for the opportunity. Thanks, guys.

Outro 40:58
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