DOD Joint A.I. Center Eyes Switch to Consortium Buying Model

The Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), is considering abandoning its existing acquisition strategy in favor of a consortium-based model for A.I. development and prototyping, according to an Aug. 28 sources-sought notice.

The plan would involve partnering with a nonprofit A.I. consortium, an association of traditional defense contractors, U.S. technology companies, startups, and academic research institutions designed to foster collaboration on A.I.-related R&D. This approach would enable the JAIC to maximize the use of flexible contracting arrangements such as other transaction agreements (OTAs) and broaden its outreach to nontraditional defense suppliers, according to the notice.

The Pentagon’s preference is to partner with an existing A.I. consortium, though it hasn’t ruled out setting one up on its own. The JAIC is seeking authorization for an OTA contract to support consortium activities by the end of December 2020. Feedback on the JAIC’s plan is due by Sept. 16.

Until now, the JAIC has relied primarily on federal systems integrators and traditional, FAR-based contracts for A.I. R&D. But officials say his approach is proving unsustainable to meet the Pentagon’s needs at the scale required, as well as to address “emergent” issues such as Covid-19, according to the RFI.

In the last three months, the JAIC had issued two major awards using conventional multiple-award contracts. In May, it awarded Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp. an $800 million task order for the Joint Warfighter program. It followed that with a $106 million award to Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd. for the Joint Common Foundation development environment. It’s unlikely that either program would be affected by the move.

The Defense Department already does business with more than two-dozen consortia, according to Bloomberg Government’s analysis. However, the vast majority of the Pentagon’s spending flows through consortia managed by one of two nonprofits: Advanced Technology International and the Consortium Management Group. In fiscal 2019, the Pentagon obligated $4.8 billion in R&D obligations through consortia. In fiscal 2019, it obligated $971 million on artificial intelligence technologies.

The JAIC was established in 2018 to “synchronize” A.I. research and development activities across disparate Pentagon agencies and to coordinate with the private sector and academia. JAIC officials plan to host an A.I. Symposium on Sept. 9 and 10 open to representatives from industry. Interested parties can click here to register online.

To contact the analyst on this story: Chris Cornillie in Washington at ccornillie@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Daniel Snyder at dsnyder@bgov.com

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