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for non-IT-related items. “We’ve seen this in several other programs that are not software-specific, where something becomes a good idea and everything gets attached to it,” said Kostro, who formerly served as policy director for the House Armed Services Committee. “Things like HVAC systems for heating and cooling are now part of the NGEN program. And so it makes me wonder: Why can’t you procure HVAC units and cooling systems through the normal procurement process?”
She said the pilot effort could be tweaked to focus on software and rel- evant infrastructure.
By contrast, Eric Lofgren, a research fellow at the Center for Government Contracting at George Mason Univer- sity’s School of Business, said the pilot programs don’t give DOD enough flex- ibility to move money as needed.
Members of the U.S. Air Force’s 800th Cyber Protection Team in October 2021. Strengthening cyber defense has been a key goal of the Air Force’s software development efforts.
“When you pull the funds out of [operations and maintenance] and then you put them into basically a research and development line item,’ve basically closed off that flexibility to reallocate funds between programs in the O&M phase,” Lofgren said. “With- in an appropriation, you still have pro- gram elements, [and it’s] very difficult to move money between those program elements. Flexibility between programs is potentially more important to the department in terms of its ability to access technology and scale technology quickly and in a relevant time frame.”
Still, Lofgren praised the pilot effort and said pairing it with the software acquisition pathway could result in more effective use of DevSecOps. He also noted that the Air Force’s Kessel Run software factory could potentially join the pilot program. The recently released
“We keep saying we have more money than China. No, we waste 90 cents on the dollar, so we don’t really have more money than China.”
Kessel Run All-Domain Operations Suite allows the software factory to continu- ously push out code to users for testing in an operational environment so devel- opers can get quick feedback.
He added that the success of the software acquisition pathway is “a cul- tural question” because it comes with steep requirements, such as submitting a life cycle cost estimate. “Software is never done,” Lofgren said. “But then there’s this issue of...what is a life cycle cost estimate because it seems to be a
continuing capability.... They just keep adding to it and fixing it and modifying it until something better comes around and displaces [it].”
Kostro said the effort is still in the initial exploration phase, “but if this ends up being as flexible and agile of an IT approach as intended, [DOD] can really leverage commercial best prac- tices and use the contractor communi- address near-peer competitors.”
The end result would be helping the U.S. “degrade the ability of a country like Russia to sort of rock an ally or even the United States from the inside by cyberattacks,” which happened with the SolarWinds breach.
Jerry McGinn, executive director of George Mason University’s Center for Government Contracting, said he expects to see more acquisition pilot programs focused on data-intensive capabilities, but that expansion could lead to a tug-of-war between DOD and Congress.
“You’re going to see the tension between executive and legislative branches,” he said. “The executive branch is going to want maximum flexi- bility, and Congress is going to not [want that] because they want oversight.”
McGinn also predicted that a suc- cessful, expanded acquisition reform effort at DOD could fuel a burgeoning interest in undertaking major budget reform. “It’s going to be hard to totally junk [the PPBE process]; there are too many vested interests,” he added. “But maybe that is the right answer.... The way we do things makes it hard to [buy] software and these new technologies.”
The true test of success will be whether these software acquisition approaches gain more widespread pop- ularity, McGinn said. “What about air- craft carriers or Bradley [tanks]...would software be a separate line item in those in those budget requests [and] be color- less? Would that be part of the budget submissions for all the major platforms? If it starts going in that direction, then obviously this is sticking,” he said. n
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