Defense

Defense bill calls for DOD to fast-track certain software buys

software (whiteMocca/Shutterstock.com) 

A provision in the defense bill moving through the House of Representatives calls for the Pentagon to authorize a new fast track for software acquisition, with an eye to upgrading vulnerable weapons systems.

The fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act requires the defense secretary to establish rapid acquisition pathways for software deals that cover one year or less and meet or are below a $50 million spending threshold. Guidance on these pathways are due to be established by March 1, 2020.

The bill specifies two rapid acquisitions pathways, one for applications and the other for upgrades. The upgrades track is looking for "the rapid development and insertion of software upgrades for embedded weapons systems or another hardware system used solely by the Department of Defense."

The security of weapons systems software has been front and center for policymakers since an October 2018 report that found multiple fundamental vulnerabilities in embedded software and IT systems across DOD.

The goals of the plan are also in line with the recommendations of a report issued in May 2019 by the Defense Innovation Board calling for changes to acquisition to allow for the continuous update and improvement of software used by DOD.

Among the recommendations offered in the report is the adoption of a "continuous hardware refresh mentality … that enables software upgrades, crypto updates, and connectivity upgrades to be rapidly deployed across a fleet on an ongoing basis."

The new authority outlined in the bill calls for the appointment of a project manager with broad powers to supervise rapid acquisitions, reporting directly to his or her military department's service acquisition executive. Awards under the rapid acquisition authority can be made within 90 days of a solicitation. Formal proposals aren't required; awards can be made on the basis of discussions, statements of qualifications and past performance data. The House bill also requires contractors to name specific individuals charged with performing the work and requires contractors to keep those individuals on the job unless the contracting officer provides a written consent for their replacement.

Under the bill, such rapid acquisition contracts can be renewed for one year at a cost of up to $100 million.

A similar but not identical rapid acquisition pathways plan is included in the Senate version of the NDAA.

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