DoD to set new path for IT acquisition

Thursday - 5/5/2011, 7:58am EDT

WFED's Jason Miller on the Federal Drive

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The Defense Department's approach to buying technology will get a long-coming policy boost this summer.

The Pentagon will heed the advice of Congress and its own internal advisory boards and move away from the same long-held approach it has used to buy weapons systems.

"We expect to issue this summer public guidance, at least our first iteration, for our different approach to acquisition," said Beth McGrath, DoD's chief management officer, at TechAmerica's 21st Annual CIO Survey conference in Washington Wednesday. "We should not be applying the DoD 5000 process to commercial off-the-shelf technology. There is no requirement for a live fire test, and there is no requirement to ensure the technology is mature. It doesn't really fit when you are buying an enterprise resource planning system and trying to implement it."

She said there are several areas that DoD should consider, such as whether the infrastructure is ready for the technology and how it will work within the larger environment. But using the approach for buying weapons to purchase IT doesn't work on a one-for-one basis.

McGrath said the guidance will help DoD change based on the experiences over the past year or so.

"We are taking a pilot based approach," she said. "The Air Force financial system is first out of the chute and we have two integrated personnel and pay systems we are posturing, looking at the different methodologies."

The change to their acquisition process is part of a broader effort to revamp DoD's technology strategy.

DoD chief information officer Teri Takai said late last month that the shrinking budgets are giving her an opportunity to redo the military's IT strategy.

McGrath said the strategy will look at how the infrastructure is set up, where the opportunities are to streamline and develop a standard approach to infrastructure. This also includes consolidating data centers.

Part of that new strategy, McGrath said, is to help DoD cut down the time it takes to field technology capabilities.

"We are looking at testing and evaluation and certification and accreditation, today two separate processes done by separate organizations," she said. "Testing can take anywhere from six months to a year. Certification and accreditation everyone says takes a year. That is ridiculous. That is a year longer for you to field your capabilities than probably is necessary. We are combining those."

McGrath added that DoD also wants to test its new technology in the environment it will run in. This way before it's fielded there is a level of certification that already is finished as DoD is configuring and building the capabilities.

All of this will help DoD address long-standing challenges around defining requirements and the tendency to try only large projects, instead of taking a modular or agile approach.

McGrath said DoD set up working groups to figure out the barriers to IT and acquisition, including whether the military would benefit from a single appropriations for technology.

McGrath said one major reason DoD struggles with IT projects is the funding approach, which pushes them to go for the big bang approach.

The guidance will emphasize agile development where the military services will be held to 12-to-18 month deliverables.

DoD's challenges with IT acquisition and overall project management are common across the government.

TechAmerica and Grant Thornton released the 21st annual survey of federal CIOs and found technology managers are focused on IT for mission or business needs more than anything else.

TechAmerica conducted 46 interviews between January and April with small and large agency senior technology officials.

Norm Lorentz, a former Office of Management and Budget chief technology officer and now director of Grant Thornton's Global Public Sector IT Services, said the survey produced few surprises, but reinforced many of the trends seen anecdotally across government.

"If we are truly going to utilize IT to transform performance of government, we will have to manage it a lot better than we do today," said Lorentz, who led the survey for TechAmerica. "That is what we heard consistently from the CIOs who participated in the survey."

And like DoD, many CIOs found acquisition one of the areas that continues to cause problems.

The survey found CIOs believe not enough contracting professionals have the experience to buy technology.

"Often acquisition professional are too strict in their interpretation of rules about contact with contractors during different parts of the procurement process," the survey stated. "Better, more open communication with IT industry during the acquisition process would help."