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Home News Archive DOD Embraces the "IT Box" Concept to Speed IT-Related Acquisitions

DOD Embraces the "IT Box" Concept to Speed IT-Related Acquisitions

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We recently wrote an article exploring whether technology has been evolving too quickly for the Department of Defense to keep up. We wrote, "DOD's inability to innovate and match the private industry product development cycle is leaving the logistics, repair and maintenance functions with a big headache, as they struggle to source technologically obsolete parts called for by their 'frozen' designs."

If the problem of parts obsolescence is a "headache" for acquisition of major weapon systems, how much worse must the problem be for acquisition of Information Technology programs?

It's a problem we all feel. By the time we've got our hands on the latest and greatest smart phone or tablet (or phablet), it's already passé. We spend top dollar for the best and the coolest technology, but our friends always seem to have tech that's newer or better-and always cooler. How much worse must it be for the Pentagon, whose acquisition system is notoriously slow, and where workflow flows like molasses at the North Pole?

When you combine DOD acquisition processes with the acquisition of information technology, how can the result be anything other than completely ridiculous?

Recognizing the problem, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition (the Hon. Katrina McFarland) told Senators at a hearing of the Senate's Armed Services Committee (Subcommittee for Readiness and Management Support) that the DOD "is working to speed up the route to acquiring new [Information Technology] systems by increasing collaboration and improving processes."

ASD(A) McFarland testified that the Pentagon is making several improvements in the way it acquires IT-related systems, in order to speed things up and avoid acquiring obsolete technology. Among them-

  • Adoption of interim guidance to adopt "modular, open system methodology" with an emphasis on "design for change".

  • Creation of the Cyber Investment Management Board, to unite "IT policy and operational requirements by identifying gaps in resources and in capabilities."

  • Development of a cybersecurity guidebook for Pentagon program managers "to assist them in understanding what cybersecurity activities are necessary at each point in the acquisition life cycle."

  • Using the Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund to support "training of IT acquisitions personnel through the Defense Acquisition University."

In addition to the foregoing, the DOD is also adopting the "IT box" concept, which was described as "a significant change" to the IT acquisition process. According to Ms. McFarland's testimony, "The IT box gives organizations the ability to acquire technology that improves on already-approved technology, as long as the changes don't exceed certain parameters." In other words, instead of "freezing" a design based on specified technology, the "IT box" concept allows end-users to upgrade the initial requirements to adopt advances that took place after the requirements were definitized-so long as those upgrades fall within "certain parameters" that were not specified.

It is to be hoped that DOD's adoption of the foregoing improvements will indeed improve acquisition of information technology and IT systems. However, we have our doubts.

In 2010, the National Defense Authorization Act (Section 804) required DOD to "develop and implement a new acquisition process for information technology systems." Further, Section 804 directed the Secretary of Defense to base that "new acquisition process" on "the recommendations in chapter 6 of the March 2009 report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Department of Defense Policies and Procedures for the Acquisition of Information Technology." Section 804 listed several attributes the new acquisition process was to embrace, including (but not limited to) incorporating "a modular, open-systems approach."

The 2010 NDAA was signed into law on October 28, 2009.

In other words, the Pentagon has had more than four years to take action, action that was directed by Congress and approved by the Commander-in-Chief (when he signed the bill into law). DOD has had more than four years to improve its acquisition of information technology and IT-related systems. It has taken DOD more than four years to develop the acquisition process innovations described earlier in this article.

More than four years.

In contrast, it took the Toyota Motor Company only two years to develop, produce, and start to sell its Prius automobile. Toyota was able to go from a blank sheet of paper to selling production vehicles in less than half the time it took Pentagon acquisition officials to implement recommendations from the Defense Science Board, recommendations that they had statutory authority to implement.

Why did it take the Pentagon so long? Good question. But perhaps a better question is why did the Pentagon need Congress to tell them to go do it?

Remember, the Defense Science Board (DSB) came up with the basic recommendations even before Congress got involved. The DSB recognized the problem, studied it, and made recommendations. Those recommendations didn't go to Congress-they went to the Secretary of Defense.

One is left with the impression that the Pentagon does not think much of DSB recommendations, since it does not seem to want to implement them unless directed to do so by Congress. And even then, it takes half a decade to get around to doing so. What's up with that?

The Defense Science Board has been advising Secretaries of Defense since 1956. Maybe it's time to do away with it, since the people being advised don't think very highly of its recommendations.

Actually, that's probably not the right answer to the problem of bureaucratic inertia. We suggest a better answer might be to hold Pentagon officials accountable for dispositioning recommendations received by the DSB. Make the bureaucrats publicly declare what they think of those recommendations. If they decline to implement a DSB recommendation, make them publicly declare what's wrong with it. If they like a recommendation, then make them publicly commit to an implementation date-and hold them accountable for meeting that commitment date.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon policy-makers will continue to inch along their infinite loop of incremental acquisition process improvements, funded by taxpayers and overseen by gullible members of Congress.



Effective January 1, 2019, Nick Sanders has been named as Editor of two reference books published by LexisNexis. The first book is Matthew Bender’s Accounting for Government Contracts: The Federal Acquisition Regulation. The second book is Matthew Bender’s Accounting for Government Contracts: The Cost Accounting Standards. Nick replaces Darrell Oyer, who has edited those books for many years.