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The Aging IT Procurement Processes of the Pentagon

About 2 months ago a blog article was written for the NDIA, exposing the difficulties of buying new IT systems by the Defense Department. Pentagon acquisitions chief Frank Kendall was on the hot seat during an April 30th hearing. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said that the track record for procurement has been “abysmal.” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., angrily said “You’re terrible at it, just terrible at it.”

 

Yet the Pentagon requested $30.3 billion for unclassified IT programs in fiscal year 2015 (a drop of $1 billion, or 3.3 percent, from fiscal 2014). So what are the issues? Well, one of them points to the complex approval process. “I think we’re imposing too much burden on people and we’re micromanaging,” said Kendall. “We have a tendency in the department, I think, to try to force the business systems that we acquire to do things the way we’ve historically done business.” And there is little incentive to change.

 

David Ahearn, a partner at BluestoneLogic, wrote in a blog post that “Military-specific IT systems acquisition — not to be confused with email platforms and other commodity IT platforms — needs to be a completely different approach than hardware platform acquisition.” Often IT projects start off with a requirements “black hole, where non-technical people can “dream up” anything they like, and contractors are motivated to pursue programs based on their complexity, as those programs create a longer support tail, and a better bottom line for traditional defense contractors, Ahearn noted.

 

There needs to be cooperation between science fiction and reality. Half the battle is to ensure clearly stated requirements that can be used to optimally build the systems required to meet stated goals. Innovation is one thing, and pushing the envelope with pie-in-the-sky requirements could achieve some of that. But, a line needs to be drawn where the path that developers and implementers go down is stopped, rethought, and corrected before all taxpayer money is spent.

 

By using standard quality metrics such as those created by CISQ, government can help define how to spot that line and ultimately ensure a hardened system in production for a lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).  Procurement practices for large, software intensive programs should be managed in this way.

 

One of the Pentagon’s most ambitious IT projects is to “create one interoperable medical record that will transition seamlessly from the Defense Department to the Department of Veterans Affairs as service members go from active duty to veteran status,” according to Lloyd McCoy, a market intelligence consultant with immixGroup. Hmm…does this remind you of healthcare.gov?

 

The article referenced can be found here

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