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3/15/2010
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Congress Targeting Defense IT Acquisition Reform

A House report recommends changes to military IT procurement policies ahead of possible broader reform legislation.

The Department of Defense's IT acquisition processes are poorly equipped for the fast-changing world of technology and quick deployments, according to a House of Representatives panel on defense procurement.

In an interim report issued last week, the House armed services committee's panel on defense acquisition reform found that program requirements are often written so specifically and programs managed in such a "document-intensive," "process-bound" way that defense IT system deployments typically take about 3 to 5 times longer than deployments in the private sector, and can be outdated several times over once they are delivered.

Defense Department officials and observers have been urging reforms to defense procurement for some time, and this year's DoD spending authorization bill looks to the military to implement alternative processes for IT acquisition. The House armed services committee aims to use this panel's report to develop defense acquisition reform legislation, according to panel chairman Rob Andrews, D-N.J.

More broadly, the panel pointed to a number of problems that appear in defense procurement regardless of what the military is buying. Specifically, the panel found that the requirements process isn't collaborative or iterative enough, and that the "analytical basis for establishing requirements is at best insufficient and occasionally non-existent."

In a hearing last Thursday before the panel, Shay Assad, acting deputy undersecretary of defense and director of defense procurement and acquisition policy, highlighted problematic business systems as representative of the problem, both in terms of managing the procurement process and in acquiring those systems themselves. "Our current systems environment is so fragmented, so disaggregated, and we have so much data exchange in a non-standard way that I'm not sure we'll ever get a clean audit," he said.

The House panel recommends the DoD consider a list of nine changes to the way it buys IT. Key to these, the panel found, is the use of clear performance metrics for specific programs and for comparison of programs across the DoD. "The metrics we have been using don't work very well in measuring IT success," deputy assistant secretary of defense Tim Harp told the panel in testimony last summer.

Other recommendations include: an increased and consistent dialogue between acquisition pros, developers, and soldiers; the adoption of open architectures to allow for "modularization" of both hardware and software; and development of a new test and evaluation approach.

The final House report is due this week.

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