Hanscom hosts RATPAC VI, encourages innovation, challenges to status quo

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – A network of acquisition professionals from across the Air Force gathered here Oct. 17 to 21 to collaborate on transforming the service's acquisition culture.

The sixth national Revolutionary Acquisition Techniques Procedures and Collaboration, or RATPAC, brought together 56 junior acquirers from various centers to discuss innovative tactics, techniques and procedures to improve acquisition program execution.

The event’s theme, “Disrupt the Process … Own the Revolution” – the latter, a nod to Boston’s history – encouraged RATPAC VI members to shake up the status quo.

“It reenergizes a mentality that says that you don’t have to take a procedure in front of you that doesn’t make sense and suffer through it,” said Maj. Jessica Wright, event coordinator. “You’re empowered to push back against the machine. Try to make a change for the better.”

But it entails more than just shattering glass, Wright explained.

“You have to pick back up and put something in place that makes more sense than what was there, and be the change agent within your organization,” she said.

Throughout the week, senior-level acquisition speakers – including Hanscom’s Maj. Gen. Dwyer Dennis, Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks program executive officer; Steven Wert, Battle Management PEO; and Col. Alfonso LaPuma, Nuclear Command, Control and Communications Integration Directorate PEO – shared their insights, experiences and advice with the group.

Dennis welcomed the RATPAC VI members and emphasized the objective of innovative, out-of-the-box thinking. But in order to create better methods, it first requires a full comprehension of what the general terms “the rules of the road.”

“The only way to ensure you’re creating a better process is to understand what you have today,” he said. “So as we disrupt the process and own the revolution, we need to grasp the rules of the road – the processes we have in place as well as our skill sets.”

The five-day forum focused on how to improve acquisition operations using a small-team-dynamic approach. Among other activities, the acquirers networked with their peers to share best practices, discuss what does and doesn’t work and devise creative solutions to deliver capability more efficiently to the warfighter.

“I hope the team-building exercises that we went through this week are the seeds that will grow into new collaboration and new levels of innovation,” said T.J. Wuth, an attendee from the Air Force Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Through video teleconference, Lt. Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr., military deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, thanked the junior acquisition professionals for their ongoing efforts, and invited them to question and challenge conventionalities.

“We need an inquisitive mindset; people who are trying to be innovative. Our goal is not to slow you down or hinder you,” Bunch said. “What you’re doing every day out in the acquisition workforce is your wartime mission … to get systems and materials to the field. So don’t take lightly what you’re doing on a day-to-day basis.”

With the responsibility for research and development, test, production and modernization of Air Force programs worth more than $32 billion annually, Bunch imparted some nuggets of wisdom he’s learned through the years. Observing and learning from others is a must, for instance, but self-reflection is equally consequential, he said.

“Do not be afraid to do a hard-core mirror check on yourself – I do it. At the end of the day I assess where are my strengths, where are my weaknesses, how did I do today, what areas do I need to grow?” he said. “You need to be self-aware so if you need to expand your horizons you’re able to do that.”

Leadership’s words of advice emboldened the attendees to continue the grassroots effort to foster a culture of change, Wuth said.

“We were inspired and empowered by senior leaders who were encouraging us to lead at our level, and to pick up the ball and charge forward with the enthusiasm and energy that our generation brings,” he said.

That eagerness was demonstrated as RATPAC VI attendees split into small groups to tackle some of the top challenges in the acquisition arena. Topics ranged from revolutionizing communication and collaboration to innovative internal acquisition processes, delegation of authority, contracting opportunities and external best practices.

At the event’s conclusion, five groups presented their team’s proposed implementations to Gen. Ellen M. Pawlikowski, Air Force Materiel Command commander; James F. Geurts, acquisition executive with the U.S. Special Operations Command; Dennis; Wert and LaPuma. The senior-leadership panel, in turn, will take the recommendations up to their level for future consideration and application.

Attendees also were encouraged to go back to their home units and spread the word about the week’s impact. Lessons learned here will assist future RATPAC events with continuous improvement tactics and procedures, according to Wright.

“Remember, every action or inaction that we are a part of has a consequence or a benefit to the warfighter every day,” she reminded fellow acquirers. “It’s hard to see sometimes, but every move, every decision you make, should be for the warfighter.”