When it comes to buying, everyone wants the best deal. You never think to yourself, I would actually like to pay an extra $1,000 for a shirt. But finding that deal in federal contracting can be very challenging.
Enter the IT Acquisition Advisory Council they have just released a new white paper on the importance of defense IT acquisition reform.
John Weiler, Executive Director of the IT Acquisition Advisory Council, spoke with Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program how reforms really need to start now.
For a little background, the IT Acquisition Advisory Council (ITAAC) is a public/private partnership of public interest groups, involved citizens, private sector sponsors and government partners. Members of the ITAAC website work together to create positive growth and change for information technology reform to keep up with the demands of the face-paced, technology-drive 21st century.
In the new report, Weiler argues that the importance of IT reform was that the success of every major national security program is dependent upon efficient and effective information technology usage.
“Today, IT is the Achilles of the Defense Department,” Weiler said. “It has shown up in over 40 different reports as being a serious threat to the operation if not fixed. And it’s a $20 billion-a-year problem.”
Weiler explained how little action has occurred regarding IT acquisition reform since the signing of the Clinger-Cohen Act (CCA). The CCA, formerly known as the Information Technology Management Reform Act of 1996, is a federal law created to enhance and amend the method in which the federal government uses, acquires, and discards information technology.
Weiler continued to discuss some of his recommendations for IT acquisition reform, starting with reinforcing the rule of law.
“The 25-point plan of the Clinger-Cohen Act, Section 804 of the National Defense Authorization Act, is very clear,” Weiler said. “Go by commercial best practices, go by commercial products, implement commercial best practices and IT management, and adopt. Don’t build commercial clouds.”
According to Weiler, the Department of Defense has failed to do all of these things. “The DoD is still having its contractors design to specification something it’s calling a cloud. This is the intel cloud that was developed by the ARMT, cost $500 million to design and build, and it can’t even work. Unfortunately, Congress has chosen to take on a generalist year’s promotion to the Defense Intelligence Agency out of frustration to get this system to change.”
Unlike DIA, the Central Intelligence Agency is now contracted with Amazon for the company’s cloud in the web. Weiler reflected on the CIA’s move.
“Everyone should commend the CIA for moving away from a weapons system to this architect and acquisition model,” Weiler said. “It solved a very specific problem for the CIA and the rest of the Intelligence Community. But it doesn’t address the tactical needs of an organization that has to go to Afghanistan or Syria. There are all kinds of different cloud constructs, and not one size fits all. It is a great model of how they should acquire, but it is not necessarily the solution that everyone should adopt.”
Tear Down the Walls
In addition to his recommendation for law reinforcement, Weiler addressed his recommendation to remove innovation barriers. He stated how innovation barriers are especially prevalent in the defense sector due to the arduous process it requires for acquisitions and the high procurement costs.
“Government likes to combine the end requirement to make such a large procurement that no small company could ever bid,” Weiler explained. “And the cost of the procurement process of itself is 91 months for a major IT acquisition. There is no small or medium company that can afford to participate and spend research and development dollars.”
“The misuse of Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs) to do market research and guide these procurements also contributes to the problem because all R&D shops want to reinvent the wheel and not necessarily adopt one,” Weiler continued. “It’s not that they are bad resources but that we misapply good resources to solve the wrong problem.”
A New Breed of IT
A third recommendation Weiler mentioned in his interview was to revitalize the IT acquisition workforce. “We have young, inexperienced people in the workforce now, and they need to be mentored and trained,” said Weiler. “This is why we signed an agreement with the Defense Acquisition University several years ago to actually provide that mentoring and training process to help these young acquisition professionals to understand how to make decision and deal with this very complex bureaucracy.”
Lengthy acquisition procedures are also a hindrance to progress. One of the reasons why the contracts are so large and complex is because people do not want to have to repeat the procurement process.
“Steel is flexible, but it takes and immense amount of pressure to flex steel, and the acquisition process is equally flexible,” Weiler stated.
Is There a Chance of Any IT Acquisition Reforms Getting Passed by Congress?
“If there is anything that we can find on common ground, it is fixing federal IT,” Weiler said. “Even the President, at the end of the Healthcare.gov debacle, said federal IT procurement is broken. The actual organization that owns the current acquisition process is probably the last one to really embrace change, but it would benefit by embracing these concepts if it just would try them a few times.”
Weiler continued by referencing some pertinent stats about why IT professionals need to conduct Agile acquisitions and steer away from the current process.
“The defense acquisition panel in 2010 claim that only 16 percent of all major IT programs coming through the Pentagon’s acquisition process deliver measurable value, which only delivered 61 percent of the requirements,” said Weiler. “A D- is achieved only 16% of the time, and an F the rest. The system is failing, and no one is held accountable. Until we start holding people accountable for their oversight roles, they are not going to be willing to change.”