DOD seeks to balance outsourcing, in-house expertise

Officials wants their own software engineering experts, but they don’t want to disregard industry’s experts

The Defense Department wants employees who are software engineering experts, but it also doesn’t want to alienate industry experts, officials said today.

DOD wants to shore up its workforce with software and system engineers who understand in-depth the information technology systems in their charge, said Timothy Harp, acting deputy secretary of defense for command, control and communications, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and information technology acquisition.

For example, a DOD engineer doesn’t need to be the person who actually writes software code, but the engineer needs to grasp what the contractor is writing to manage the contractor appropriately. The engineers need to understand what’s going on with the IT systems and software that is constantly being updated as the technology evolves, Harp said at a session held by the House Armed Services Committee's Defense Acquisition Reform Panel.

“Managers manage what they understand,” said Ron Kerber, co-chairman of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Department of Defense Policies and Procedures for the Acquisition of Information Technology.

The in-house expert engineers help DOD make important decisions, especially as software becomes a core part of IT, business, and weapons systems, said Paul Nielsen, director and chief executive officer of the Software Engineering Institute.

While seeking their own experts, defense officials don't want to alienate industry and what it brings.The private sector is a key component for DOD to create IT systems. Kerber said officials keep current with the latest upgrades and evolutions in technology when DOD seeks industry's input on software and IT.

Kerber said DOD can run into problems if there’s too much software development from inside the department. Working with industry can help prevent the syndrome that he called NIH, or "not invented here." Some government software developers can get protective of what they write and chase away anything they didn’t create, severely limiting the department, he said. A strong relationship between DOD and industry keeps both open to new ideas.

At the hearing, the reform panel was discussing faster ways to buy IT and better ways to manage it. The panel's chairman, Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.), said IT and the acquisition process are a clash of cultures. IT adapts and evolves very quickly while the acquisition process is deliberate and considers carefully any possible moves.

Andrews said the panel plans to revisit the IT acquisition issue during the year and develop recommendations for the fiscal 2011 defense authorization legislation.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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