…unless we create voices for a radical change, the critical IT component of our acquisition system will be swept into the same bucket as weapon systems which are currently pushing toward more oversight…
As with all organizational activity, resource allocation is the most obvious power base (“he with the gold rules”) and the place where large amounts of organizational energy are applied. As a public organization that has commanded a large percentage of the Federal budget each year, the DoD expends a large amount of resources (people, policy, and oversight) to provide public transparency to DoD expenditures in order to assure Congress and the tax payers that public monies are spent wisely and properly. With the exception of a few well publicized examples, the Department has done an credible job of ensuring that public money is properly spent.
…our adversaries are exploiting most modern IT capabilities to support command & control, sensor information aggregation, and weapon control.
The DoDD 5000 is the cumulative result of energy spent to ensure that public monies are properly spent in the acquisition of DoD equipment and services. As argued in my previous post, defense IT acquisition challenges…, February 13 2009, although the DODD 5000 policy and oversight processes are working well to ensure that public monies are not improperly spent, there is a large chasm between “not improperly spent” and and wisely spent to achieve the needed result. In the case of DoD acquisition expenditures directed at the acquisition of information infrastructure I suggest that we are properly spending resources according to policy and procedures and failing to achieve an effective return on tax payer investment.
Arguments against the current process include:
Too much oversight;
Long development and procurement timelines;
Poor fielded functionality;
Difficult to maintain; and,
Long-term contractor dependencies.
Every new administration, as far back as my career spans (and that is a long time:-)), has vowed to clean up the DODD 5000 acquisition process. In turn, each Administration has:
1. Rewritten the DODD 5000 policy documents to modify philosophy, processes, and oversight activity;
2. Enforced the new policy with commensurate oversight process adjustments;
3. Improved acquisition workforce capability through training and billet allocation;
4. Modified contract philosophy between hard nosed fixed price contracting to more flexible cost plus contracting or some combination in between; and,
5. Placed more or less responsibility for management and delivery upon the contractor.
Although some might claim that the above adjustments have created useful outcomes, none have addressed the uniqueness and criticality of IT systems. To date we remain saddled with an ineffective IT acquisition and oversight process not valued by government, contractors, or the Congress.
For the Obama administration the concern over acquisition has become a primary National Security goal. In a recent Washington Post Article, Hill Panel to Begin Review of Defense Acquisition System, Monday, March 9, 2009; Page A13, staff writer Steve Vogel states:
“Last week, President Obama ordered a government-wide review of federal contracting procedures. In pledging to get a handle on defense contracting, Obama cited a Government Accountability Office study last year that found $295 billion in cost overruns among major Pentagon weapons programs.
This ‘wasteful spending,’ Obama noted, comes from investments in unproven technologies, lack of oversight and ‘influence peddling’.”
In a separate March 5th Aerospace Daily article John M. Doyle Obama Supports Acquisition Reform Bill, we see the preliminary suggestion of added bureaucratic oversight… once again:
“At a White House news conference, Obama praised the defense acquisition reform bill introduced by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (Aerospace DAILY, Feb. 25)… …Among the reforms in their proposed Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act, one would require the Pentagon to conduct preliminary design reviews before giving approval to new acquisition programs.”
So once again we are headed toward a new round of DODD 5000 reforms and possibly a new law governing weapons systems acquisition. As in the past, unless we create a voice for a radical change, the critical IT component of our acquisition system will be swept into the same bucket as weapon systems which are pushing toward more oversight and slower acquisition time lines.
…I recommend that we parse this problem into at least two distinct and separate acquisition domains…
Rather than working to embed my thoughts into this “change” ritual to overhaul the macro DoDD 5000, I recommend that we parse this problem into at least two distinct and separate acquisition domains. The two primary domains would be: (1) weapon platforms & weapon systems; and, (2) information infrastructure and information systems/applications. My rationale for breaking acquisition into these two domains is driven by the distinctly different pace of technology change between the two. In the case of the weapons systems domain, technology change is less driven by rapid commercial technology change and acquired systems generally are fielded and sustained for 2-3 decades with engineering changes capable of supporting the needed evolution through system life cycles.
The information systems domain, on the other hand, has been tightly coupled to commercial information technology, with its 12-18 month technology evolution, since the early 1980s. As the DoD information systems moved from purpose built computer systems to commercial-off-the-shelf information systems our National Security became directly related to the advance of commercial IT. On the network front, DoD spent large amounts of money working to invent networking technology that would satisfy its various mission system needs, only to forgo those developments in favor of the DARPA invented Internet protocol based networks that are the heart of today’s commercial Internet revolution.
This is all of the good news. It is these commercial technologies that have helped us deliver precision weapons across large distances with stunning accuracy and effect. The bad news is that the very same technologies that the US is leveraging are available to our adversaries. Furthermore, our adversaries are not hampered by an acquisition system designed to ensure that billion dollar weapon systems are wisely spending tax payer monies. It is now evident that our ability to deliver rapid information technology change to the battlefield could represent the difference between success or failure in future military confrontations.
One doesn’t have to examine enemy tactics in recent attacks to know that our adversaries are exploiting most modern IT capabilities to support command & control, sensor information aggregation, and weapon control. One of the significant obstacles to early success in the Iraqi conflict has been the IED (Improvised Explosive Device) usually triggered with some version of information technology. The recent terrorist attack on Mumbai India demonstrated the ability of a small force to control a city through modern mobile phone, satellite phone, and computer systems enabled command & control. It will be egregious if we allow our adversaries to leverage commercial IT to defeat our own decision processes while improving their own.
The next post will suggest a practical and incremental way that we can demonstrate an alternate acquisition process for IT system capability.