U.S. Cyber Command looks to grow its acquisition capacity

U.S. Cyber Command's contracting office is in its "infancy" with a handful of staff and is looking to expand while showing Congress it knows what it's doing.

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The Defense Department's newest combatant command is nearly a decade old but still doesn't steer its own acquisitions. That could change in fiscal 2019, however, as U.S. Cyber Command staffs up its contracting office and seeks a bigger acquisition budget.

"Acquisition authority is limited at the moment. It's capped at $75 million and has a sunset date, currently, of 2021," said Stephen Schanberger, command acquisition executive for U.S. Cyber Command during a panel at the Billington Cybersecurity Summit Sept. 6. "So the command is actively pursuing getting that increased on the ceiling amount as well as the sunset date."

Cyber Command has only had acquisition authority for two fiscal years, but Congress extended that authority through 2025 in the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. That advances the authority four years from the original sunset date of 2021.

Cyber Command awarded only one contract in fiscal 2017, Schanberger said, partly because it lacked a contract writing system and technical personnel to get things done. Things improved this year with $40 million in contract awards and Schanberger expects to reach the $75 million cap sometime in 2019.

"We are really hamstrung at the moment in relying on the current [contracting] vehicles out there from others," he said. "And in some cases we've had to adjust our scope to match up to the contract versus waiting for them to put another whole contract vehicle or task order onto a contract."

Schanberger seeks to more than triple Cyber Command's acquisition to $250 million to allow for multi-year contracts.

Congressional scrutiny has been the main impediment to securing additional acquisition funds because the command needs to prove its contracting abilities, but Schanberger said increasing staff and getting things right will help.

"Congress would like us to show that we actually can use our authority the way it's supposed to be and start to stand on the backbone of what it takes to be a contracting organization," particularly regarding contract types, use other transaction authorities, competitive bids versus sole source, and partnering with small businesses, he said.

Schanberger told FCW he wasn't concerned about additional congressional scrutiny surrounding the Defense Department's use of other transaction authorities because "our efforts are nowhere near the big efforts that they're looking for."

But overall, Cyber Command's contracting office is growing. Schanberger now leads a team of about five people, including himself, consisting of a contracting officer, specialist, and supporting contractors. He hopes to double the team's capacity by year's end.

"We are in our infancy from an acquisition perspective, we are putting down the foundation of the personnel and the skills," he said, with the goal "to be able to activate, put together solicitation packages, plan our contracting strategy for [multiple] years, and be able to effectively implement and put out RFPs on the street without making a mess out it."

Schanberger said they are looking at capabilities that can benefit all of the service components, such as analytic development. Cyber Command released a request for proposals for an analytic support program dubbed Rainfire on Sept. 4.

"Once we get the skills in place, I think we'll be able to demonstrate to everyone around us that we can execute the authorities we have and grow them responsibly," he said.

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