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NASA’s Karla Jackson Shares Objective-Based Procurement Strategy & Fiscal 2023 Goals

NASA has developed an objective-based procurement strategy to advance its ongoing Moon to Mars initiative, according to Karla Jackson, senior procurement executive and deputy chief acquisition officer at the space agency.

While traditional Department of Defense procurement is based on capabilities, the objective-based approach is built around concrete goals and intentions, which serve as the foundation for each step of the plan, Jackson said during her closing keynote address at GovCon Wire’s 2023 Space Acquisition forum Wednesday.

“We might have to move around priorities, but we need to make sure we always have in mind what our ultimate goal is and what we are trying to achieve,” Jackson explained.

To ensure the success of the mission, which aims to send humans to the moon in a sustainable way to create a pathway to further Mars exploration, NASA has established five principles to follow during the objective-based procurement process, Jackson said.

The first of these pillars, she stated, is to craft a detailed plan laying out the goals, intentions and requirements for the mission. Once these objectives are put in place, the next step is to work backward to identify and complete more specific phases, she said.

For the plan to stay on course throughout the mission, constancy of purpose must be maintained. According to Jackson, a steady direction can help protect long-term initiatives from a number of challenges that may occur during program execution, such as employee turnover, budget restrictions and external pressures.

“Once we document top level goals, we need to stick with the plan. It has to be clear, and it should be maintained as a consistent plan over time,” Jackson said.

“No matter who comes and goes in the agency, this plan should leave behind a legacy,” she emphasized.

Unity of purpose is the fourth principle. All parties involved in the initiative, both within and outside the agency, must have a full understanding of the plan’s ambitions, according to Jackson.

She said that NASA is currently making efforts to optimize communication and engagement in line with this goal. The agency still faces barriers preventing efficient communication between its departments, which she hopes to further integrate moving forward.

“Enhanced communication and engagement is the lifeblood that drives the reinforcing cycle of the other principles,” Jackson stressed.

Raising public awareness is another portion of the objective-based Moon to Mars plan, Jackson said. Targets of information diffusion include industry partners, academia, other federal entities and even school children who may be interested in a NASA project.

Widening the lens, Jackson shared the agency’s fiscal year 2023 initiatives, of which she said data analytics is the most important. 

By harnessing data analytics, Jackson aims to improve decision-making and increase transparency within NASA and when making acquisition decisions with industry partners.

Another goal of Jackson’s is to encourage innovation surrounding acquisition techniques. A major milestone is the creation of the NASA Acquisition Innovation Launchpad, which is intended to promote the development of new methods for these processes.

She also intends to boost collaboration with industry and other federal organizations, such as the Department of Commerce and DOD.

“I think sometimes it is easy for the acquisition community and the procurement community to rest on our laurels. I am asking all of my stakeholders, my counterparts in the industry and the people that work for me to think about new and innovative ways to do things,” she said.

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