AIA Joint Strategic Quality Council Focuses on Lowering Barriers to Standards Adoption by Industry and Government

AIA Joint Strategic Quality Council Focuses on Lowering Barriers to Standards Adoption by Industry and Government

4-minute read

A reliable feedback channel provides crucial information for any high-functioning, continuously improving system. Process data and customer feedback are commonly used to refine manufacturing processes and quality management systems.

The Office of Safety and Mission Assurance (OSMA) seeks feedback about the policies that it sets to understand if they are effective and for continuous improvement, to meet both existing and emerging center, program, and project needs. Those needs will change as a response to emerging agency-level goals and objectives, lessons learned, and economic, technology, or political opportunities and challenges.

While OSMA can infuse its policies with changes for improvement, those improvements are not always readily adopted by programs and projects. This can be due to programmatic conditions, especially those with contractual elements, that create a cost-benefit barrier. Inefficient communication channels can also stymie changes to a program’s or project’s requirements baseline. Reaction to a high-profile problem is more likely to enable a requirements change, while proactive, continuous improvement is not.

In the past, poor knowledge about authoritative sources of policy-driven requirements, and of suitable companion requirements and contract language, created a lag in programs’ and projects’ adoption of existing policy.

OSMA’s Assurance Program Plan Generator (APPG) online tool serves to mitigate poor adoption of existing OSMA policy. OSMA is also collaborating with the Office of Procurement to ensure contract Requirements Development Teams (RDTs) have ready access to the most up-to-date requirements language that is suitable for flow-down into the supply chain. A much more challenging policy improvement is adoption of wholly new technical standards.

Government-wide policies established in the 1990s compel agencies to engage with industry to develop standards that provide repeatable and credible results at a lower cost (see 15 CFR Part 287). This regulation also refers to OMB Circular A-119, which also compels federal government agencies to use industry-developed voluntary consensus standards wherever practicable. The latter policy was instrumental in enabling government and industry to collaborate on the development and use of technical standards that would provide predictability in requests for proposals (RFPs), a higher manufacturing readiness by industry and ultimately lower cost.

New requirements are routinely associated with higher costs because they must be integrated with existing command media, processes and equipment, and personnel training. Once the new requirements are standardized, despite a long-term Return on Investment (ROI), no one program or project wants to be responsible for paying for the near-term costs required to institutionalize the new practices.

The uncertainty about the conditions and costs that will provide ROI is an obstacle to users’ adoption of a new standard. Increased cost is a likely consequence of a customer’s requiring use of a standard not yet adopted by their supplier(s), even if during contract negotiations the customer and supplier agree to an alternate equivalent solution.

The optimal solution for cost and execution success is for the customer to use technical standards that are already adopted and institutionalized by the supplier(s). The challenge then becomes determining what is needed to facilitate rapid adoption by both the customers and suppliers when new technical standards are developed to address an efficiency or improved performance objective.

Circa 2017, the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) engaged with the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) to create a new working group, the Joint Strategic Quality Council (JSQC), that could influence Department of Defense (DoD) Government Contract Quality Assurance (GCQA) processes to achieve cost, schedule and performance efficiencies without sacrificing safety. The JSQC then invited government prime contractors and major subcontractors who have significant GCQA presence in their factories.

In 2019, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) were invited to join, as they also conduct GCQA processes and use many of the same prime contractors as the DoD.

Each year, the JSQC identifies six to eight projects led and executed by volunteers from the JSQC member companies, NASA and the DCMA. These projects examine inefficiencies, quality management obstacles and unaddressed needs, and develop and recommend solutions. DCMA and industry members sponsored several pilot projects to demonstrate the viability of the solutions to reduce the user’s learning curve.

Current projects include standardizing how to use suppliers’ Quality Assurance (QA) data to reduce GCQA activities where conformity risk is low, reduce cost to customers by leveraging the International Aerospace Quality Group’s (IAQG) AS9100 certification system to manage major Quality Management System (QMS) nonconformities, and developing a new technical standard for using information technologies for remote QA (NAS413, Remote Surveillance). Membership in the JSQC is not limited to AIA members and is cost-free. The JSQC provides a champion for strengthening U.S. aerospace capabilities within a non-competitive working environment.

The AIA provides several options for creating greater visibility for the JSQC’s outputs, including publishing technical standards, white papers and newsletter articles. The IAQG provides a liaison member to the JSQC, which gives the group efficient pathways to coordinate and align with content being produced by the IAQG. The IAQG produces the majority of the QMS technical standards used in the aerospace industry, meeting virtually most months and face-to-face several times a year.

Though the governance is informal, the group is vital to producing outputs that create significant improvements. The represented government prime contractors have a heightened stake in the need for cost and schedule efficiency as both a customer when integrating components acquired from sub-tier suppliers and as a supplier to the government.

During a face-to-face planning meeting in January 2024, the group recognized the multifaceted achievements that are necessary to reach a state of institutionalization for new practices and technical standards, from publication to adoption and routine use by suppliers to routine use in RFPs and contracts.