DOD tests rapid buying

DOD pilot projects will test strategies for putting IT products into the hands of service members within 18 months -- rather than years

The Defense Department has launched a dozen pilot projects to test new strategies for putting information technology products into the hands of service members within 18 months, rather than the years it often takes now.

The Rapid Improvement Team (RIT) pilots were authorized Dec. 21 with a memo signed by DOD chief information officer John Stenbit and Pete Aldridge, DOD's undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics.

In the memo, Stenbit and Aldridge stress that IT is a key enabler for transforming DOD. "DOD must strive to reduce the cycle time to deliver mission-effective IT capabilities to 18 months or less in order to acquire field capabilities inside the IT sector's innovation cycle time," the memo stated.

Military IT executives have long grimaced about the length of time it takes for new technology projects to get funded. Even great ideas can languish for years before receiving funding.

With RIT, the Pentagon aims to generate recommendations and initiatives that will help DOD improve its traditionally snail-like buying process, the memo said.

One recommendation is to apply some of those initiatives to ongoing IT acquisitions, which is why DOD has launched the pilot projects. The pilots, which began Jan. 1, will run through Dec. 31, 2003.

Margaret Myers, DOD's acting deputy chief information officer, said RIT is taking a two-pronged approach by continuing work on policy development in conjunction with the 12 pilot projects. "We're continuing the fairly extensive look at the policies and procedures while we try out some of the good ideas through the pilots," she said.

Steve Kelman, a professor of public management at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and a former director of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said it makes sense to develop policy in conjunction with running pilot projects.

One concept being tested is whether to delegate more oversight to the components rather than conducting reviews exclusively in the Pentagon. The oversight will not be hands-off, one DOD official said. In fact, the pilots will probably undergo intense scrutiny, but the Pentagon would delegate some oversight.

Plans include setting project milestones with a quarterly review of the pilot projects as a group, Myers said.

Paul Brubaker, former DOD deputy CIO who is now president of e-government solutions at Commerce One Inc., said the RIT effort is critical. "RIT will help DOD refocus on asking the right questions," which include what the expected outcomes are and if they are achieved.

The team is also going to get resistance from people within the Pentagon who are "used to spending a lot of time crawling into these projects...asking questions that are important but irrelevant," Brubaker said. "The folks who enjoy that are going to be resistant to this change."

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Pilot Programs

Air Force:

* Global Combat Support System

* Integrated Logistics Support

* Integrated Maintenance Data System

* Standard Contracting System

* Financial Information Resources System

* Global Transportation Network

Navy:

* Global Combat Support System, Maritime

* Navy Tactical Command Support System

* Navy Enterprise Maintenance Automated Information System

Army:

* Automated Information for Movement System II

Defense Information Systems Agency:

* Global Combat Support System

Health Affairs:

* Project to be named

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