DOD seeks clean acquisition data for better policy oversight

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The Defense Department needs better data to improve its oversight of acquisition policies to adequately assess investments and risks over time, according to a watchdog official.

Shelby Oakley, the director for contracting and national security acquisition for the Government Accountability Office said the ability to conduct data-driven oversight was the Pentagon's acquisition office's biggest challenge.

"The biggest thing that I see right now that is a challenge from [the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment] office is their ability to, in fact, conduct data-driven oversight," Oakley told the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness at an April 28 hearing.

"Oversight is still important even if the services are running the show for their own programs. DOD, as the portfolio manager of all of [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] weapon programs, has to play a role in determining what we are investing in and understanding and deciding what those risks are and where they are."

Oakley said that the military services aren't always working from the same playbook as the Pentagon's acquisition offices.

"There's a little bit of a struggle there in terms of what data and how they are going to get transparent data from the services to be able to make smart decisions from an OSD level for those programs," Oakley said.

The Defense Department has increasingly stressed its need for better data utilization and sharing, especially when it can help personnel do their jobs better.

Stacy Cummings, DOD's acting undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said that while there's willingness and policies in place to trade acquisition data with the military services, that data needs to be standardized -- something that DOD is working on.

"Right now, our analytics is very, very people-focused. We want to move it to be system-focused. We want to be able to take machine learning, put data into a system where we can look at it more holistically for trends as opposed to the way we historically have looked at data, which is to dive ... into individual programs," Cummings said.

Cummings wrote in her submitted testimony that DOD was in the midst of creating data and analytics capabilities to assess the impact of the Adaptive Acquisition Framework, which is a rewrite of DOD acquisition policies into a more easily navigated "pathway" format. That's been especially notable for software, which currently has 16 early adopter pathway programs.

DOD is expected to complete its data standards by the end of the year and is also developing metrics to measure performance of the acquisition framework's pathways, Cummings stated in submitted testimony. The plan is to pilot initial metrics that have been identified using manual data collection for a select number of programs, according to the testimony. Published reports are slated for the end of fiscal 2021.

Cummings told lawmakers that the goal is to use that data to find and analyze trends in a way that can affect outcomes and allow the Office of the Secretary of Defense to better "oversee the success of our policies."

"We want to bring that up and look for trends, and then let our policy and our oversight drive the trends in the right direction as opposed to trying to oversee a program that's being overseen by a service acquisition executive, a [program executive officer], and a program manager," Cummings said.

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.


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