Fixing IT at the Pentagon

The Defense Department, hoping to capitalize on the benefits of information technology, created a team to speed up such acquisitions.

The Rapid Infusion Team (RIT) is supposed to get IT purchases out within 18 months to the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who need them. That may not seem overly ambitious in an age where IT products and prices can change dramatically in just one year. But it's a huge improvement over DOD's current process, in which it can take years before IT products even get to the troops.

DOD has a history of dragging out IT procurements. Consider the Standard Procurement System, recently taken to task by a General Accounting Office report.

In theory, SPS was a great idea. The system was intended to automate the complicated process that DOD procurement shops use to buy supplies. American Management Systems Inc. won the SPS contract in 1997, and the system was scheduled to debut in March 2000. Instead, only about half of DOD's 42,000 contracting officers currently use SPS.

In a scathing review, GAO blamed the program's woes on the contract managers. "DOD has not met any SPS program commitments and does not know whether it is meeting others," the report said.

As RIT members develop their recommendations, they must realize that the biggest obstacle to faster, more efficient IT procurements is mismanagement of those contracts.

The team is off to a good start, reviewing the way the military goes about determining its operational requirements and oversight reviews for IT systems. Also, RIT is looking for more flexible funding for those systems.

To capitalize on IT solutions, RIT members should also focus on changing DOD's procurement culture. For example, they can dissuade government off-the-shelf procurements and tout the use of commercial applications whenever possible.

RIT has a mid-September deadline for delivering its recommendations to the Business Initiatives Council, another new initiative created by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to reform department business processes.

It's good to see DOD taking the business of equipping itself seriously.

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