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Official Cites Need for Technology Acquisition Reform

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 10, 2009 – The Defense Department’s information technology acquisition process is too slow to be cost-effective, a senior Pentagon official told Congress yesterday, citing the need for acquisition reform within the department.

“Based on my experience, the traditional [Defense Department] acquisition process is far too slow to keep pace with the extremely rapid pace of information technology change,” said Tim Harp, acting deputy assistant defense secretary for command, control, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and information technology acquisition.

Harp explained to the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on defense acquisition reform that the current process, which mirrors the department’s weapons systems acquisition procedure, doesn’t work for information technology. The various phases of weapons system acquisition are ill-suited for information technology systems, he said.

Harp described the department’s acquisition process and how it contradicts President Barack Obama’s desire to cut back on government spending.

The first phase in acquisition is to mature the purchased technology, he said, but information technologies in the commercial sector already are largely established. The next phase is intended to prepare a program for production, though information technology isn’t produced in quantities. The final phase of production is irrelevant, he said, again because information technology isn’t produced by numbers, he said.

The thought of information technology in terms of life-cycles has become ambiguous, Harp told the House panel. Rather than completely rebuild or reproduce new technology after a certain amount of time, as is the case with weapons system life-cycles, information technology can be updated and adjusted periodically to keep pace with the commercial sector, he said.

“The pace of commercial information technology development allows us to build or adopt information technology and continue to modify it indefinitely,” he explained, “rather than replace an entire system in a pre-determined period of time.”

That the powers of information technology will double every 18 months is a compelling idea that’s been proven valid among the systems acquired by the Defense Department, he said. That reality places high demands on defense officials to change system requirements much sooner than they may originally have anticipated to enable relevant technology fielding on the battlefield or home station, he added.

“Combat operations are being conducted in rapidly changing circumstances, placing pressure to change requirements … to respond to adversary tactics,” he said. “Also, the warfighters of today are information-technology savvy, with expectations to leverage the unprecedented innovation in the commercial market to enhance [the Defense Department’s] information systems and capability.

“The combination of these very real forces lead to significant requirements-change pressure on our information technology process,” he continued. “We should begin to embrace the concept that changing requirements might actually be desirable for information technology acquisitions, rather than follow the inherent weapons-system acquisition process assumption of stable requirements over time.”

An information technology acquisition model recently proposed by the Defense Science Board recognizes the distinctive facets of information technology and addresses the funding and process challenges, he said. The proposal suggests a more agile process and exploitation of the inherent module and nature of the information technology that builds smaller capability releases, rather than large programs.

In fiscal 2010, the Defense Department will establish 10 pilot programs to acquire information technology under a new process, Harp told the subcommittee, adding that he expects the programs rapidly will improve defense acquisition.

The goal will be to implement smaller programs to meet the needs of more people in a timelier manner, he explained.

“Smaller programs are more successful,” Harp said. “We can compete with industry delivering programs of 75,000 lines of code or less. When you start getting up into [millions of] lines of code, even industry can't deliver them on time and on schedule.

“This whole direction that we're going with the small, modular approach may lend itself to more successes,” he said.

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