Congress tries to improve defense acquisition

Bill targets slow process

The Defense Department can’t buy information technology systems through its acquisition system before those IT systems are out-of-date and need more updates, a defense task force said recently. It looks like Congress wants DOD to fix that.

In its fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill (H.R. 2647), passed on June 25, the House told DOD to pick 10 IT programs every year to test new procurement processes. The selected programs should include a mix that represents a cross section of functions. The idea is to put these programs on a fast track for upgrades that otherwise would languish in acquisition limbo.

IT systems are more deeply integrated into DOD infrastructure, and that technology evolves quickly. A Defense Science Board’s task force released its report in March after reviewing DOD policies and acquisition procedures regarding IT purchases. The report concluded that the process for buying IT doesn’t work well, especially for systems that must be continually updated. The acquisition process is time-consuming and cumbersome, the authors said.

“The process should be agile and geared to delivering meaningful increments of capability in approximately 18 months or less,” the document states. To do that, the task force concluded IT purchases need a unique acquisition process.

DOD can improve IT acquisitions only if a program’s top priority is performance and it is meeting deadlines, the task force said. Also, program mangers need to make the decisions while understanding the risks.

“This approach implies that the program manager is not obliged to obtain a ‘thumbs up’ from each functional organization,” the report adds.

The task force proposed a lean acquisition process, similar to processes that the private sector use. Agencies should conduct extensive analysis before developing such a system, but they should be flexible in defining requirements. The contract would also have to be flexible enough not to penalize government when it encounters the inevitable delays and changes.

Other provisions in the authorization legislation would require:

  • Checks on contractors' services and how much money DOD spends on those services.
  • An assessment of how DOD buys services and oversees them. The assessment would look at the guidance that the department provides its acquisition workforce on how to develop a services contract, including how to define requirements and associated performance metrics.
  • DOD to submit, with its annual budget proposal, details on what services it plans to buy and the number of contractor employees needed to do the work.
  • Restrictions on work that a contractor can do when integrating products into a major weapons system. Only government personnel could do the work.

About the Author

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

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