There’s no shortage of reports, studies and Congressional dictates that highlight the Defense Department’s need to streamline the way it buys information technology.
Now, one senior Pentagon official says the department may be on the verge of pulling it off. DoD is about to try out a new approach to buying and developing some of its IT capabilities, a new rapid acquisition process for cyber technologies that could be off the ground sometime in the next year.
‘Change on the horizon’
“A big change hopefully is on the horizon, at least with this part of IT,” said Dr. Ron Jost, deputy assistant defense secretary for command, control, communications, space and spectrum. “We believe that once it’s proven, we can actually expand it.”
The new approach would focus on three specific areas: Computer network attacks, computer network exploitation and computer network defense. Within the next year, Jost said, the Pentagon will attempt a streamlined approach involving the requirements, acquisition and testing process for the new cyber capabilities it brings online.
Jost, speaking at AFCEA NoVA’s Warfighter IT Day last week, said a key to the new process will be the department having a clear understanding of precisely what it wants to buy or develop at the very beginning of the acquisition process.
“If I knew what I was going to buy, I could categorize it. If I could categorize it, I could put it into a process: A, B, C or D,” he said.
A, B, C and D would translate into timeframes that DoD would need to meet for completing an entire IT acquisition process: 30 days, 9 months, 18 months or more than 18 months.
Room to expand?
“That’s the whole acquisition process, including the requirements and the test,” he said. “We think, by the way, that if we weight those and put time limits on them, we can actually get the department to comply. And once we start with these three (cyber) elements, we think we can expand it to others. We being me and the mice in my pockets.”
Jost said another aspect of the approach involves smarter testing of products before they’re finished being developed, or testing of commercial products before DoD buys them. Jost said the Army is leading that approach with its Network Integration Evaluation at Fort Bliss, Texas, and at White Sands missile range in New Mexico.
In the first exercise, the Army tested 24 different technologies on its operational network, pulling a brigade combat team out of the rotation of troops that are deploying to Afghanistan and dedicating them to testing new hardware and software. The goal, Jost said, is to get proposed capabilities into the hands of soldiers to determine what works and what doesn’t in the real world.
“The people that are gating this process are the operations people. Let the ops people say, ‘That’s sufficient. I’ll take it,'” he said.
The Army says it learned so much from the first version of the network evaluation that it’s now planning to repeat the drill twice a year. Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence, the Army’s chief information officer, said they also saved money through what it learned in the first exercise: enough to pay for the twice-yearly evaluations through the next decade.