House seeks speedy delivery of defense IT

"Information Management for Net-Centric Operations" Vol. 1 (.pdf)

House lawmakers are calling on the Pentagon to create a pilot project aimed at quickly assessing and injecting commercial information technology into Defense Department operations.

The requirement for DOD to establish a $10 million “Rapid Commercial Information Technology Identification Demonstration Pilot” is included in the House version of the fiscal 2008 Defense Authorization bill, passed by the full chamber on May 17 by a 397-27 vote.

Senators on the Senate Armed Services Committee will start marking up their version of the bill on May 22, according to a committee spokeswoman.

The effort proposed by the House comes on the heels of a report by the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board that recommends the military increasingly make use of commercial off-the-shelf information technology in military operations. The use of widely available commercial systems, the panel argues, is crucial to making sure the military can keep up with new innovations in the fast-moving technology sector.

The Pentagon traditionally buys information technology through what many officials have called a cumbersome and bureaucratic acquisition process. Since the beginning of the Iraq war, DOD has created several efforts to rapidly buy and field systems urgently needed in the field – albeit in relatively small quantities.

If the House proposal becomes law, the secretary of Defense must submit a report to Congress within 12 months on the implementation of the project.

The House defense authorization bill also seeks to shave $867.3 million from the Pentagon’s $3.7 billion request for the Army’s Future Combat System. Lawmakers cite significant cost increases in the program and competing priorities, like an increase of the service’s end-strength, as reasons for the cut.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced a permanent increase of the size of the Army by 65,000 earlier this year. The plan is to increase the ground service’s ranks over five years to a total of 547,000. The effort could cost as much as $70 billion, officials have said.

The Army’s Warfighter Information Network-Tactical also took a hit in the House bill. Lawmakers cut $102.3 million from the $222 million request for the program, citing unclear requirements, schedule changes, cost growth, and high-risk technology development challenges.

House lawmakers also cut back by $20 million the Pentagon’s $70.3 million request for the Net-Enabled Command Capability, arguing the Defense Systems Information Agency, which manages the program, will be unable to “execute the full fiscal year 2008 request in the time remaining,” according to the House Armed Services Committee report accompanying the bill.

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