Congress wants to create an avenue for the Department of Defense to purchase software more easily.
Dueling proposals in the House and Senate Armed Services’ versions of the annual policy bill require the Secretary of Defense to develop guidance that would help with the rapid acquisition of software applications and software upgrades that can be fielded in less than a year.
“The objectives of using the acquisition authority under this section shall be to begin the engineering of new capabilities quickly, to demonstrate viability and effectiveness of those capabilities in operation, and to continue updating and delivering new capabilities iteratively afterwards,” the Senate bill read. The bill passed the committee at the end of May and was released publicly June 12.
“Defense technological advantage today is enabled by hardware, but its capability is defined by software," Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord, said during a May briefing at the Pentagon. “There is an undeniable urgency to develop and deploy software faster, faster than our adversaries, in order to maintain strategic and tactical advantage.”
The House’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2020 notes that some software contracts equal to or less than $50 million could be entered into for no longer than a year.
These applications, then, will provide a pathway for rapid software development as well as new avenues for rapid upgrades.
The bill also asks Pentagon leaders to set up software development and acquisition training and management programs for acquisition professionals.
Part of the problem Pentagon leaders face today is there are no clear boundaries for software spending in what the national security community refers to as “colors of money.” These colors include procurement, research and development and operations and maintenance. Using funds set aside for one area for a different silo is strictly prohibited by law, leaving software in a gray area.
A recently completed Defense Science Board’s report on software acquisition recommended the creation of new pathways.
“What we’ve been talking to the appropriators about is writing in the ’20 bill the opportunity to do multiple pilots; where, we would have just one line for software development so we can move back and forth among those different stages to give us what I’ll call administrative flexibility,” Lord said. “I don’t believe our business systems right now reflect how we do software. So we are asking to have the authority to do some pilots in ’20, looking towards some actual new language and new title in ’21.”