Congress targets OTAs, cyber investments in defense policy bill

The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act conference report homes in on other transaction authorities, drones and cybersecurity investments.

The Pentagon (Photo by Ivan Cholakov / Shutterstock)

Defense committees in Congress have come to an agreement on the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act that features a $738 billion topline budget with $71.5 billion for overseas operations.

In its report released late Dec. 9, Congress homes in on other transaction authorities (OTAs), drones and cybersecurity investments. Here's a breakdown of a few provisions in the bill the House plans to vote on Dec. 11:

Data on OTAs and prototypes. The House proposed an annual reporting requirement on how the Defense Department is using OTAs. The final amendment revises section 873 of the 2019 NDAA to extend such reporting until 2023. Ellen Lord, DOD acquisition head, told reporters Dec. 10 that OTA use for prototyping has nearly tripled from $1.7 billion in 2016 to $3.7 billion in 2018, with 88% of OTAs awarded to companies that haven't previously worked with the government, Lord said.

Microelectronics under the scope. One of several supply chain-related provisions requires DOD to establish "supply chain and operational security standards and requirements for microelectronics" by Jan. 1, 2021. The conferees intend that "by incorporating and standardizing best practices the Department will improve its acquisition of securely manufactured, commercially-available products and ensure that a growing industrial base is more resilient to a variety of risks in the supply chain," they wrote in the legislative explanation.

Additionally, conferees request the undersecretary of defense acquisition and sustainment brief Congress by Aug. 31, 2020, on the military's reliance on foreign sources for microelectronics used in precision-guided munitions. They also want more information on cybersecurity risk, including whether contractors are single- or sole-source providers and which subcontractors supply them. This was in lieu of a separate provision that wasn't adopted.

Foreign influence. A provision directs the defense secretary to modify current policies and regulations to increase scrutiny of contractors for foreign influence, hacking or access to sensitive defense assets. "The acquisition community must have greater visibility into all cleared and uncleared potential contractors and subcontractors seeking to do business with the Department" to ensure they "do not pose a risk to the security of sensitive data, systems, or processes such as personally identifiable information, cybersecurity, or national security systems," the conferees wrote.

Drone ban. If the bill passes, DOD will be prohibited from buying or renewing contracts to acquire foreign-made unmanned aircraft systems except when used for counter-UAS activities. The Defense Department is already working to expand the U.S.-based drone manufacturing to combat foreign dominance in the drone industry.

IT and cyber investment management. DOD's chief information and data officers would be required to "account for, manage, and report its information technology and cyberspace investments" and make any legislative suggestions by Feb. 3, 2020.

The conferees call DOD's current accounting process for its $50 billion in IT and cyber spending "inefficient," adding that it creates "unnecessary delays in preparing the annual budget."

New software chief? The conference report includes a provision that would create a "Chief Digital Engineering Recruitment and Management Officer" who would implement policy and help "maintain digital expertise and software development as core competencies of the civilian and military workforce."

Another provision requires the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering to "designate a senior official or existing entity" to guide next-generation software and software-intensive systems development via a new strategy due to Congress next year.

Cybersecurity for all. The report also contains a provision requiring DOD's CIO to ensure an enterprisewide cybersecurity infrastructure and make mission data accessible to other DOD components. A separate provision tasks the National Security Agency as a cyber advisor to the DOD CIO when evaluating the security of commercial products.

Moreover, the bill calls for a cybersecurity framework, such as the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification, for the defense industrial base. The provision notes CMMC as a third-party certification pilot program that could be used "as the basis for a mandatory Department standard.

CYBERCOM's acquisition authority. U.S. Cyber Command's acquisition authority is amended to not permit spending more than $75 million on new contract efforts.

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