USAF edges toward an agile future

Agile development By Kalakruthi shutterstock image ID: 516494164 

Maj. Gen. Sarah Zabel, the Air Force's IT acquisition process development director, said during a June 6 keynote address at the National Defense Industry Association's agile government event that a free market approach for capability development could be the future where agile software in government leads.

Zabel said it wasn't an official Air Force or Defense Department position, but an "example of what might happen if we let the principles of agile sink farther and farther" into acquisition culture.

"We start from a position of traditional acquisition, as I come into this field and take a look at where we are, I see that artifacts of traditional acquisition are impeding progress," she said.

"It's not that people just don't want to do it, it's the fact that our organizations, incentives, our job descriptions – everything is built on the traditional acquisition basis and view of the world," she said. "To go to a different world… there are just so many artifacts that we need to modify."

Zabel said the Air Force was wrapping up its program objectives memorandum (POM), the final step in the programming process, for fiscal 2020 but that agile software development wouldn't be a part of it.

"At this point, the POM is still blind to agile, blind to the requirements," Zabel said. "The programs in 2020 will have to live with what we've got. We're still not there yet."

Zabel said she knew when taking the job that she wanted to work with software.

"We're planning on flying the B-52 to 100 years of life…meanwhile the environment will change, the threat will change, it's mission set will change," and these changes are reflected in the software, she said.

"When you talk to the F-22 program officer and the F-35 [program officer], you know what, the Defense Innovation Board may not have said you have to go agile but it's the best thing out there. So they're going agile too."

Zabel hopes that mode of thinking spans the service, leading to end-to-end agile acquisition process.

She said the summits highlight early successes for some areas and hopes that the existing "free market areas are allowed to keep going."

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


  • IT Modernization
    shutterstock image By enzozo; photo ID: 319763930

    OMB provides key guidance for TMF proposals amid surge in submissions

    Deputy Federal CIO Maria Roat details what makes for a winning Technology Modernization Fund proposal as agencies continue to submit major IT projects for potential funding.

  • gears and money (zaozaa19/

    Worries from a Democrat about the Biden administration and federal procurement

    Steve Kelman is concerned that the push for more spending with small disadvantaged businesses will detract from the goal of getting the best deal for agencies and taxpayers.

Stay Connected