Software Acquisition: Still a Tough Nut to Crack.

Author:Tadjdeh, Yasmin
Position:Algorithmic Warfare

Effectively acquiring and sustaining the massive number of software systems the Pentagon employs is a perennial problem, experts say. It often takes too long for the Defense Department to purchase and deploy new, cutting-edge software or upgrades.

Despite efforts by Congress to root out the problem through various well-intentioned reports, issues persist, said Jeff Boleng, a special assistant for software acquisition at the Defense Department. He is a key member of Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord's executive leadership team.

"We've got a whole bunch of numbers staring us down--we've got 804, 805, 809, 813, 872, 873, 874, 868," he said, referring to sections of recent National Defense Authorization Acts.

"Essentially, Congress is inside DoD's decision loop here telling us how to fix software more quickly than we can actually address some of the problems and implement them," he noted.

Boleng is working closely with the Section 872 panel which--alongside the Defense Innovation Board--is focusing on software acquisition regulations, he said during a recent event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

The report will soon wrap up and is slated to be delivered to the Pentagon in April and then to Congress in May, he added.

"There's a lot in there. Surprisingly, there's not a ton that's new," he said. "I hope that the timing is right for some of these recommendations. We've been looking back in history at various other studies that have been done on acquisition reform, software technology, information technologies. [And] we've been lamenting about this problem since the '70s--literally when software first started to even be created for defense systems--and a lot of times we say the same things."

Andrew Hunter, director of the defense-industrial initiatives group at CSIS, said in his former life as a Capitol Hill staffer he saw many reports come and go that were meant to get after improving software acquisition at the Defense Department.

Congress "asked the department to make radical change in its approach to software acquisition some years ago--the original [Section] 804--which was essentially do everything for software different without any definition of what that meant, what that would look like [or] how to do that," he said.

Staffers would ask if the department was executing what Congress had requested and it was sometimes tough to make the case...

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