DOD, intell join forces to save
- By Doug Beizer
- Sep 05, 2008
It seems like a simple idea: The Defense Department and the intelligence agencies work together to buy software in an effort to get the best price.
Although an agreement to do that was announced in July, the marriage between the agencies could be years in the making. Experts say the program has the potential to live up to expectations, but it will need to clear major hurdles first.
Because DOD and intelligence agencies have two different missions, the challenge of coordinating efforts is great, experts say. But the union between DOD and the intelligence communities is an important and necessary step if they truly want to share information and save money.
“These are enormously large bureaucracies with certain compatibilities in their functions and missions,” said Bill Martel, professor of international security studies at Tufts University.
“But they do have really different missions and responsibilities,” Martel said. “DOD must organize a nation to fight wars, and the intelligence community has to organize information to know where we are in the world and what’s going on.”
The different missions create fundamentally different cultures within the organizations, he said. “Those cultures manifest themselves in different ways of looking at the world, different ways that the organizations operate, and it will probably take a sheer force of will on the part of leadership to drive them together,” he said.
The enterprise contracts to buy software will be called Net Centric contracts, said Dale Meyerrose, associate director of national intelligence and intelligence community chief information officer. Meyerrose will leave that position at the end of September.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is representing all of the intelligence agencies in negotiations with DOD. The procurement vehicle will be available to all of the intelligence agencies. The program is specifically for acquiring common, standard, compliant, commercially available software. The Net Centric contracts will let subject-matter experts do the procurement work for all the agencies and DOD. Working together to get the best price is the main thrust of the program.
“This is a departure from how we used to do things,” Meyerrose said. “Each part of the intelligence community, all the various components, were responsible for acquiring all of their own commercially available software.” Under that approach, the intelligence agencies didn’t take the greatest advantage of their combined purchasing power and often bought more licenses than needed, he said.
The go-it-alone system led to a wide variety of licensing terms and conditions that inhibited information sharing within the intelligence community and with DOD. It also forced the intelligence agencies to accommodate many versions of commercially available software applications in its networks.
“Under the old way, every program manager would have to go through a procurement activity to get commercial software X,” Meyerrose said. “That procurement activity would be duplicated several times for every other part of the community that needed to get the very same piece of software.”
Meyerrose’s office is in the midst of negotiating the first major Net Centric contract for data-handling software. Over the course of the next year or so, the office expects to form similar enterprise license agreements with all of its partners in the commercial software business.
Desktop tools, search tools, operating systems and other commercial applications will be included in the agreements.
The Net Centric contracts are based on the General Services Administration’s SmartBuy program, which started the trend of standardizing the way software is purchased, said Shane Aubel, co-founder of Accent Global System Architects, an information technology consulting f irm.
One of the biggest challenges the agencies face in making the program successful is progressing from acquisition processes that have been around for decades, he said. A project Accent worked on with DOD, for example, was designed to modernize the department’s procurement practices for the IT goods and services DOD buys.
“Their processes were not wired for procuring IT systems,” Aubel said. “Their processes, and the systems that support those processes, were really built around a different era.”
With so many different stakeholders and objectives, achieving cooperation will be a challenge, he said.
“There is a level of independence” among the military services, Aubel said. “There is a reluctance to adopt the same systems.”
However, the focus on network-centric warfare and the technology needed to make that possible will make cooperation among the services easier. Most network-centric warfare tools are IP-based, making it easier for the various agencies to buy the same products.
“Doing things the same way means you can apply the same tools,” Aubel said. “The biggest problem is agencies do things so differently. To be able to buy off-the-shelf software, you need to start doing things in a more standardized way that is consistent with the way industry and the commercial side does those things.”
Improving information sharing among the defense and intelligence agencies is another major goal of the program. The lack of a coordinated way to buy software often left agencies with different versions of the same software. In some cases, newer versions could not work with older versions of the same product, which made information sharing difficult.
This program hopes to eliminate that concern by providing enough licenses so all the agencies can use the same version of common software.
“We made sure that the DOD negotiated elements of our requirements, concepts of operation, and stipulations that are important to us,” Meyerrose said. “And they are using standard contracting language that made it available for us to use the software wherever we needed to do it.”
Using standard software with common data types also helps with information sharing. But agencies will need to adopt security standards to make the flow of information consistent, Aubel said.
“Sometimes when you configure the security, it is massively different,” he said. “But the more they can standardize that from a technology perspective, [the more] it helps. But that only gets you a fraction of the way. The real challenges are not from a technology perspective but from a cultural perspective.”
Meyerrose said intelligence agencies and DOD are ready to make those cultural changes. Agency leaders are motivated to eliminate duplicative efforts caused by going it alone.
“The leadership has bought into the concept, so senior leadership across the intelligence community and the Department of Defense has embraced this,” Meyerrose said. “That senior leadership is making a compelling case saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do, and this is how we’re going to do it.’”
“We still have to work through some process elements so that the folks used to doing this on their own have trust in the process,” he said. “But we see those as tactical execution elements and not major showstoppers at this time.”
Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.