A statement from Dr. Roper on COVID-19

  • Published
  • By Dr. Will Roper
  • Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics

Like everyone, the entire acquisition workforce is dealing with unanticipated challenges of COVID-19. Exchanging offices with home telework, meetings with conference calls, and handshakes with social distancing are the new normal for keeping our workforce and their families safe, while staying laser-focused on maintaining the readiness of our forces, now and into the future. Our past initiatives to empower our workforce and delegate unprecedented decision authority to accelerate programs has put us in a good position to respond to present challenges with max agility and innovation.

My top priority is the safety and well-being of all personnel, families, and industry partners … our people make the magic that is our military happen. Department of the Air Force leaders, including myself, are expanding communication channels across the chain of command to check on our teammates, ensure workloads are manageable, and provide updates on health policies as they evolve. But everything we do cannot be shifted online, so our teams have restricted to mission-essential meetings and travel, while still getting the job done. Our adversaries must know our military is ready — today and tomorrow — should our nation call upon it.

Looking ahead, defense acquisition is in uncharted territory. Near- and far-term impacts of the new Coronavirus evolve daily. As we complete our first week of response, our teams navigated potential work stoppages, changing local and state directives, halted supply chains, and gearing up to support any national Defense Production Act requirements. I am amazed how little disruption entered our programs despite all the disruption around them. That speaks to how creative and capable our people truly are. Ongoing dialogues — including those with other Departments and industry leaders — are focused on further empowering the field, providing additional resources, and managing cost and schedule impacts flexibly.

The present crisis could easily create a tunnel vision towards near-term issues only, so we are also maintaining focus on game-changing capabilities our nation will need in future. Just last week when COVID-19 caused the postponement of the SXSW (South by Southwest) conference in Texas, we pivoted from a months-planned, multi-day small business tech event to an online virtual one. With less than 72 hours to pivot, the AFVentures team hosted over 5,000 people from across the U.S. in a single-day Virtual Collider and Pitch Bowl, keeping our Air and Space Force commitment to small businesses and tech startups. This event was the single largest small business award in government history, nearly $1 billion. This is the new normal of what we can achieve!

Similarly, when the much-anticipated ABMS (American Board of Medical Specialties) April demo was postponed to June, we started leveraging the program’s tabletONE and phoneONE multi-level connection technology now to improve communication across our distributed remote workforce. There were so many examples of innovation this past week — it makes me exceptionally proud to serve on this team and exceptionally hopeful we will slalom through obstacles next week and weeks after. I have the utmost confidence that our Air Force and Space Force acquisition teams will get through this unprecedented time and be a stronger Department for it. #strongerDAF