USA — Lynn Announces Task Force to Speed IT Procurement

OMAHA, Neb. — Deputy Defense Sec­re­tary William J. Lynn III announced plans today to sig­nif­i­cant­ly speed pro­cure­ment of infor­ma­tion sys­tems in the depart­ment.
Lynn announced for­ma­tion of a task force that will con­cen­trate on speed­ing up the IT acqui­si­tion process dur­ing the U.S. Strate­gic Com­mand Cyber­space Sym­po­sium here.
The task force will con­sist of experts from the Defense Department’s acqui­si­tion, tech­nol­o­gy and logis­tics office. “The goal is to devel­op a sig­nif­i­cant­ly faster and agile acqui­si­tion sys­tem more tai­lored to an IT world than [to] large pieces of mil­i­tary equip­ment,” Lynn said.
The U.S. mil­i­tary is the most capa­ble armed force in the world, in part, because of the edge giv­en by the reliance on infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy, Lynn said. But the pro­cure­ment process for soft­ware and hard­ware still is mired in the indus­tri­al age, tied to the way the depart­ment buys tanks or ships or air­craft.

“In this very ordered process, we decide what the mis­sion is, iden­ti­fy the require­ments that are need­ed to meet that mis­sion and ana­lyze alter­na­tives to meet those require­ments,” Lynn said. “Eight or nine years lat­er, we actu­al­ly have some­thing.”

It has worked, because the Unit­ed States mil­i­tary has the best weapons sys­tems the world has ever seen, but in the IT area, “our sys­tem has fol­lowed that mod­el, and it sim­ply does­n’t work,” he said.

“On aver­age, it takes the depart­ment 81 months from when an infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy pro­gram is first fund­ed to when it becomes oper­a­tional,” the deputy sec­re­tary said. This means that sys­tems are four to five gen­er­a­tions behind the state of the art upon deliv­ery.

Lynn com­pared this process to that of Apple, which took 24 months to con­ceive, devel­op, test and begin to mar­ket its iPhone. “In [the Defense Depart­ment], we will bare­ly have a bud­get doc­u­ment in 24 months,” he said. “So Apple gets an iPhone and we get a bud­get. It’s not an accept­able trade-off.”

The new task force will report direct­ly to Lynn, and he has direct­ed its mem­bers to refash­ion IT acqui­si­tion around four prin­ci­ples. First, speed must be the over­ar­ch­ing pri­or­i­ty. “We need to match the acqui­si­tion process to the tech­nol­o­gy devel­op­ment cycle,” he said. “In IT, this means 12- to 36-month cycles, and not sev­en to eight years.” Sec­ond, the Defense Depart­ment must acknowl­edge that incre­men­tal devel­op­ment, test­ing and – when­ev­er pos­si­ble – field­ing of new capa­bil­i­ties pro­vide bet­ter IT out­comes than try­ing to field a large, com­plex sys­tem all at once.

“Third,” Lynn said, to achieve speedy, incre­men­tal improve­ments, we need to care­ful­ly exam­ine how to estab­lish the require­ments that gov­ern acqui­si­tion.” While sys­tems must be designed to be use­ful to the users, he not­ed, depart­ing from stan­dard IT archi­tec­tures adds to the cost and can sig­nif­i­cant­ly add to the time it takes to field the sys­tem.

“To achieve speed, we must be will­ing to sac­ri­fice or defer some cus­tomiza­tion,” he said. “Mak­ing use of estab­lished stan­dards, and open mod­u­lar plat­forms, is of para­mount impor­tance.”

Final­ly, the deputy sec­re­tary said, the department’s infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy needs to run the gamut from sim­ple word pro­cess­ing to pro­vid­ing com­mand and con­trol for ther­monu­clear weapons.

“We must rec­og­nize that dif­fer­ent IT appli­ca­tions demand dif­fer­ent lev­els of over­sight and enter­prise inte­gra­tion,” Lynn said. The task force is work­ing to out­line a series of acqui­si­tion paths that apply high lev­els of insti­tu­tion­al due dili­gence where it is need­ed – the nuclear com­mand and con­trol archi­tec­ture – and strip away excess require­ments where it is not – such as in replac­ing word pro­cess­ing soft­ware.

The acqui­si­tion process is not an easy one to change, Lynn acknowl­edged, because the Defense Depart­ment has unique infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy needs that lim­it its abil­i­ty to repli­cate the dynamism of pri­vate indus­try.

“Our sys­tems must work across busi­ness, warfight­ing and intel­li­gence appli­ca­tions,” Lynn said. “We can­not usu­al­ly go with­out the func­tion­al­i­ty of exist­ing sys­tems as they are being updat­ed or replaced.”

And Pen­ta­gon offi­cials can­not just walk down to an elec­tron­ics chain store and pick up new equip­ment, he not­ed. “The plan­ning, pro­gram­ming and con­gres­sion­al­ly man­dat­ed bud­get­ing process must all be in align­ment,” the deputy sec­re­tary said. “Despite these sig­nif­i­cant obsta­cles, I believe we can make dra­mat­ic improve­ments in IT acqui­si­tion.” The task force, he said, will iden­ti­fy who is being inno­v­a­tive, how to make bet­ter use of exist­ing author­i­ties and where to try pilot projects.

“Our intent is to tar­get things we can change now,” he added, “while lay­ing the foun­da­tion for longer-term reforms that may require Con­gress to leg­is­late new author­i­ties.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)