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RATPAC: How a Network of Junior Acquirers is Changing the Air Force

ACQUISITION NEWS & GAZETTE --

Innovation is the key to future success. It sounds great, but in the reality of a government bureaucracy it seems impossible to accomplish. You probably have great ideas that would benefit the Air Force. However, due to a perceived lack of empowerment or top level support, you may have not been able to implement your ideas. RATPAC is trying to change that. The Revolutionary Acquisition Techniques Procedures and Collaboration group is a team of government civilians and Company Grade Officers (CGOs) who have been empowered by Air Force (AF) and United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) senior leadership to create an organization that will help you implement innovation. RATPAC connects likeminded civilian and military junior acquisition professionals in order to form a network of collaboration that identifies, develops and implements Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs) to improve acquisition. RATPAC members have started to attack issues on multiple fronts, diving into problems to implement strategic perspectives from the grass roots level.

It is well known that SOCOM has been successful in fostering a culture of innovation. One example is the Ghost Program, which deploys a handful of high energy AF junior officers to SOCOM each year to learn and apply SOCOM’s TTPs. The “Ghosts” are then empowered with the responsibility to implement their ideas when further deployed to multiple AORs. In March 2014, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen Mark Welsh visited SOCOM and received a briefing on the Ghost program. He wanted to know how Ghosts could take what they learned back to the broader AF. In true SOCOM fashion, Mr James Geurts, SOCOM’s Acquisition Executive (AE) and GHOST program founder, turned to the Ghosts and tasked them to “go do.” The result was RATPAC, with the first meeting being held in May 2014. Just three months later, Mr Geurts, Dr Bill LaPlante (SAF/AQ), Gen Janet Wolfenbarger (AFMC/CC), and Gen William Shelton (AFSPC/CC, now retired) signed the RATPAC Charter. THREE MONTHS! Imagine getting a signed acquisition strategy in that time.

The junior officer-led RATPAC utilizes the Ghost concept by bringing high energy AF and SOCOM junior  cquirers together to capitalize on a diverse perspective of new or improved TTPs. This premise is not new. RATPAC is modelled after the Weapons and Tactics conference (WEPTAC), in which pilots, navigators and combat systems officers share fighter/bomber TTPs. It is a forum to discuss innovative concepts, present real world tactical problems, and deliver solutions designed for immediate implementation. The key is that RATPAC members strive to come up with solutions that can be actioned immediately, and solicit support from the network to empower change.

Old and new members of RATPAC meet semi-annually, alternating locations between the AF and SOCOM. RATPAC II, a three day event hosted by PEO Weapons at Eglin AFB 20-22 October, brought together a diverse group of 32 junior acquirers to blend fresh, innovative ideas with the core concepts of development and implementation. During RATPAC II’s first two days, TTPs were exchanged through case studies and presentations which challenged the team to examine key issues, root causes and question solutions. RATPAC II’s theme, “Do Less with Less,” certainly drew some attention. Speakers applied this concept by discussing how to be effectively efficient, the key of being “right sized,” and how to work with leadership to be a “reverse mentor.” The last day was dedicated to the issues that RATPAC  articipants saw within their organizations. During both small and large group discussions, participants analysed their own programs, examined problem areas and offered implementable solutions.

Success stories started flowing back to the group just weeks after the event. Capt Scott Eberle from Peterson AFB utilized RATPAC to solicit ideas for space operations command and control, subsequently using common off-the-shelf products to refine user requirements. Lt Amber Oar from Gunter Annex is developing a strategy to establish a web based library for software licenses to equip AF engineers with enhanced development capability. Ms Brigitte Kneer from Robins AFB has dramatically reduced paperwork – cutting out “mandatory” reporting formats and large summaries in order to supply just the minimum needed information, reducing cumbersome documents from 120 pages to two.

Senior leadership has shown tremendous support and is beginning to utilize this new team. Recently, Dr LaPlante asked the group to help him find solutions for some of his key challenges. Utilizing the concept of “Do Less, and be more productive,” he asked us how can the AF do a better job at owning the  echnical baseline and how do we fundamentally change the perception of Air Force acquisition? RATPAC is hard at work providing solutions, but we need more help. So in true RATPAC style, I am using this closing as a call to action. If you are either a government civilian or military member and would like to join, you can contact me at Jason.Rathje.1@us.af.mil. I will get you in touch with RATPAC members local to you. All ideas are welcome as long as you remember the GHOST motto, “Yes, if” NOT “No, because.”

RATPAC attendees strategizing innovative acquisition techniques.