Why DOD is so bad for buying software
The Department of Defense is one of the largest tech organizations in the world, but it struggles to buy IT, especially software. The DOD can take years to go through the technology purchase process – whether it’s software to run a fighter jet, tactical radios, or the latest version of Microsoft Office – and at this time there, the technology may be obsolete.
“The software progresses every 12 to 18 months, so you have at least one iteration, if not two iterations, behind in the decisions you made to launch the program in the first place,” Dean Hullings, Global Defense Solutions Strategist at Forescout Technologies, says FCW. It also “opens the door for other people to say,” Well, wait a minute. We weren’t part of it. We also have capabilities. “And that extends the actual acquisition process.”
Hullings said the scuttled Joint Venture Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) program is emblematic of DOD’s challenges with purchasing emerging technologies. Pentagon officials wanted a cloud service that would allow civilian personnel and combatants to securely access and share data and digital tools at the highest classification levels. It wasn’t DOD’s first cloud purchase, but it was a big purchase. However, the potentially $ 10 billion contract has come under intense political scrutiny and years of lawsuits and protests fueled by accusations of favoritism in the way the contract was awarded.
DOD officials canceled JEDI and switched to a multi-cloud, multi-vendor alternative called Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability. In the meantime, the department still does not have the central cloud capacity detailed in the JEDI solicitation in 2017.
The problem is not a lack of money. DOD is poised to raise nearly $ 740 billion in fiscal 2022, and investments in cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and general computing are expected to increase in the coming years. Plus, technology is not the problem. JEDI competitors Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Oracle and IBM have a long history of providing robust cloud services, and a myriad of small and medium businesses are creating new products and improving them every day.
Nonetheless, the DOD continues to struggle to buy the technology it needs. The issue has resulted in numerous Congressional hearings to discuss budget reform and procurement processes, Pentagon Death Valley policy papers (the gap between industry development d ‘innovative technology and its deployment by the DOD) and monitoring reports that note where the DOD is failing in its attempts to quickly buy, finance, develop or implement software.
Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) In nine years. “Instead, he argued that DOD should take a software-centric approach to technology acquisition.
“Hardware-centric computing has worked for a long time; this is how the world worked, ”Moulton said at the National Defense Industrial Association Command and Control of All Fields Symposium in July. Now, however, “this is really a world of software …. We have to recognize that in many cases it is the software that is really the basic technology, and we just have to be able to install ourselves on a piece of hardware. different as it becomes available. ”
Reforming the budget and procurement processes is a hot topic on Capitol Hill and across the DOD. But as weapon systems rely more on software than hardware, the demand for tangible change intensifies.
In a report released in February, the Hudson Institute recommends that DOD or Congress “sponsor a commission to study holistic changes in planning, programming, budgeting and execution (PPBE) and the allocation process. structured credit to ensure the United States has a long-term competitive advantage. long-term competition while maintaining the constitutional role of Congress. “The report also recommends” a limited-scope pilot project on an alternative resource allocation process, designed to foster adaptability in capacity delivery and aligned around ‘a high priority national security operational challenge’, among other topics.
In addition, the institute states that the software performed 80% of the system functions in the F-22 fighter jet in 2000, compared to 45% for the F-16 in 1982. Today, the software is so much a part of it. part of the F-35 that the Government Accountability Office recently advised the DOD to update the aircraft modernization schedule, automate the collection of software development performance data, and set quality performance targets software, which the DOD agreed to do.
During a hearing in May, President Jack Reed (DR.I.) said the Senate Armed Services Committee was focusing on reforms to the PPBE process, which has been in place since the 1960s. “It was a model that was suitable for the industrial age, but we are in a post-industrial age, “he added.
In its final report, the Cyberspace Solarium Commission recommended that the Federal Acquisition Regulation be amended to include cybersecurity requirements and software vulnerability mitigation, while the National Security Commission on AI (NSCAI) said the DOD should speed up its adoption of emerging technologies by streamlining its acquisition. to treat.
“Meeting cost, schedule and performance baselines is rarely an approximation of the value delivered, but is particularly inadequate for measuring and driving the iterative approaches inherent in AI and other digital technologies based on software, ”says the NSCAI report. “Unless requirements, budgeting and procurement processes are aligned to enable faster and more focused execution, the United States will fail to stay one step ahead of its potential adversaries. “
So, with the accumulation of evidence and the growing consensus, why has there not been reform?
Terry Halvorsen, former DOD CIO and now general manager of client development and solutions for the federal and public sectors at IBM, told FCW he doesn’t think a major acquisition or budget reform is the answer.
“Is the acquisition system bad? No,” he said. “Is the acquisition system as responsive as it should be today to technological change? No, and it’s not just a government problem. It’s also an industry problem …. I think the government is looking to streamline this process. be able to adapt to a world where Moore’s Law is no longer correct. “Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles about every two years, but Halvorsen said,” We are changing faster than that.”
Overhauling budget planning and procurement processes could do more harm than good, he added. Instead, DOD needs “a way to better respond to the fact that in today’s world, we really can’t predict the future of technology.”
In Congress, however, lawmakers continue to push for the idea of making the budget process more flexible. The Senate’s latest version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 includes two provisions to reform the PPBE process: one would establish an independent commission to explore options, and the other would ask the IOC and the DOD Data Manager to develop a plan to consolidate the IT systems used to manage data and support the PPBE process.
Halvorsen argued that Congress could help by speeding up its own budget approval process. “If you could make the budget actually get on time more frequently and be more adaptive, that would probably go a long way to improve things,” he said.
Enrico Serafini, CEO of pExchange, had a different suggestion. He said the best solution is for DOD to effectively manage its budget to create more accountability. He told FCW that the latest talk focuses on agile acquisition and how to buy technology faster to achieve goals faster. “If you can provide the rationale and manage this in smaller cycles, I think that should really be the answer,” said Serafini, whose company provides software for budget management, database management, and software. advanced analysis solutions at DOD.