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Congress Urges Defense IT Acquistion Overhaul

Report recommends better planning for upgrades, early prototyping and deployment, and "modular open system" approaches to software and system development.

Provisions in a bill that passed the House of Representatives last week would push the Department of Defense to try out new acquisition processes for information technology purchases. The provisions, part of a Defense appropriations bill, allow the Secretary of Defense to test new IT acquisition procedures on up to 10 IT programs each year. The bill follows an April Defense Science Board report and numerous comments by federal CIO Vivek Kundra and other observers urging acquisition reform.

"Every 18 months you're going to have major, transformational changes when it comes to information technology," Kundra said in a recent interview with InformationWeek Government. "Unfortunately, if you look at the processes, if it takes 18 months to two years to go through a procurement cycle, you've already missed one revolution, one cycle."

That echoes the findings in the Defense Science Board report, which said Department of Defense acquisition of IT takes too long, doesn't make incremental upgrades easy, and doesn’t help ameliorate budget overruns. That report recommended a new IT acquisition "platform" and involvement on the part of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

"Fixing the DOD acquisition process is a critical national security issue -- requiring the attention of the secretary of defense," the report said. "DOD needs a strategic acquisition platform to guide the process of equipping its forces in an expeditious, cost-effective manner."

The report recommended that under secretary of Defense for acquisitions, technology, and logistics Ashton Carter create a new, "streamlined" process that builds in easy incremental upgrades, early prototyping and deployment, and "modular open system" approaches to software and system development.

A number of voices have long argued for radical changes to Defense IT acquisition processes. John Weiler, executive director of the Interoperability Clearinghouse, for example, has called for significant overhauls to the use of contractors and systems integrators in addition to incentives for on-time, under budget delivery and better performance measurement. "We're stuck in a system that uses 1940s acquisition processes not designed for IT," he said in a recent interview.

If the Defense spending bill passes the Senate and gets signed into law, the DoD would be required to measure the effectiveness of the new acquisition methods and report any activities to Congress in annual reports. Those reports would include descriptions of all IT programs involved in the trial acquisition processes as well as an evaluation of those processes.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on leading-edge government IT -- and how the technology involved may end up inside your business. Download the report here (registration required).

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