For the next five years, the Corps of Engineers is no longer required to seek Office of the Secretary of Defense approval for the acquisition of supercomputers – the computing systems containing tens of thousands of processors performing billions and trillions of calculations or computations per second.
This change streamlines the Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville’s High Performance Computing Program’s process to procure supercomputing systems for its stakeholders.
Tasha Davis, senior procurement analyst, Headquarters USACE, Directorate of Contracting Office of the Senior Contracting Official-Alexandria, said the change ensures that programs across the Department of Defense have the timely availability of industrial resources (and associated services) to meet current National Defense and Emergency Preparedness Program requirements, including Huntsville Center’s HPC Program.
The center’s HPC Program was created in 2012 to provide cradle-to-grave procurement of supercomputers specifically for the High Performance Computing Modernization Program that enables DOD laboratories and test centers to conduct research, development and evaluation activities.
The center’s HPC Program’s Project Delivery Team’s expanded reach offers program-management and contract-support services to all federal agencies. They are currently the only execution team within the DOD that has three major acquisition vehicles in place to provide key supercomputing deliverables in a cost-effective and efficient manner.
Davis said in the past the challenge for the center’s HPC Program to procure supercomputers was the approval process.
She said the process for requesting approval to rate an order within USACE required multiple levels of approval that were external to Huntsville Center and could easily add on more than two months to the acquisition milestone schedule.
“The deputy undersecretary of defense (industrial policy) had to approve in writing and authorize any priority rating that a defense contractor used to acquire a supercomputer,” she said.
“The approval of orders for supercomputers were at the DOD level, meaning coordination for each approval would mean multiple routing and reviews prior to routing for review and approval at the OSD level, where the likelihood of the reviewers being familiar with USACE’s specific programs would be minimal.”
However, Davis said after research, analysis, and discussion with deputy undersecretary of the Army (industrial property) and deputy assistant secretary of the Army (acquisition policy and logistics), SCO-ALX was able to confirm that the DOD guidance for supercomputers was outdated and did not align to more current Defense Priorities & Allocation System’s DO Rating guidance, which is a contract or order placed in support of a national defense program.
Since the change, Davis said for the next five years USACE is no longer required to seek OSD approval on each order for supercomputers where a DO Priority Rating is requested for use.
The approved memorandum covers the USACE Enterprise (Huntsville Center, and the Engineering Research and Development Center).
“In addition to the five-year approval for DO Ratings of supercomputers, we have learned that there are no additional approvals required to rate orders or contracts that fall under the approved DOD assigned programs,” Davis said.
She said if the five-year memorandum had not been approved, for every single order or contract for supercomputers, even if for the same program, the procurement process would remain cumbersome.
“A DO rating request would be required, the contracting officer would have to complete a Request for Special Priorities Assistance Form, provide an overview briefing of the programs and route the various approval levels to OSD for final approval.”