The Defense Department is beefing up its Congressionally-mandated strategy for how it will buy tools, applications, services and products in its fifth domain — cyberspace.
Frank Kendall, the acting under secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said the wrong people influenced the first attempt at the plan, which lawmakers required in the 2012 Defense Authorization bill.
“I saw a draft the other day, it went through the staffing process, and to be honest, what happened in the staffing process was that every interest group, if you will, had gotten the thing to where it was so weakened that it really wasn’t going to have much teeth in it, so I pulled it back and we are working on rewriting it,” Kendall said Monday during a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
The Pentagon has until June to give Congress the strategy detailing how it will rapidly buy tools, applications and other cyber capabilities for the U.S. Cyber Command, the military services and agencies.
Lawmakers said they want the document to give specifics across 12 areas, including a process to determine and approve operational needs, a well-defined and repeatable process to develop operational capabilities, and how they will test the capabilities to make sure they meet their needs.
“When I say cyber, I’m really not talking about IT. I’m separating that from the things we use specifically to defend our networks where the IT is and the thing we might buy to attack other people, and some of the things used for intel go in there,” Kendall said. “Basically, the problem we have with those programs is they tend to be very small … but they are terribly important. They are important to the survival of our networks. They are important to our ability to operate and they are very important on the offensive side as well.”
A different process than for weapons systems
Kendall said DoD must have an approach to buy cyber technology more quickly so Defense can react to attacks or vulnerabilities when they happen.
“We have to take it outside the conventional system for major weapon systems entirely,” Kendall said.
DoD also will use the strategy to understand its defense levels, its capabilities to attack and what gaps exist in those areas. Additionally, the document, Kendall said, will help DoD have a better understanding of what investments in cyber are really giving the department.
The cyber acquisition strategy is part of a broader effort by DoD to improve the way it buys everything across the board.
Kendall’s predecessor, Ashton Carter, now the deputy secretary of DoD, started about 14 months ago the Better Buying Power initiative. It laid out 23 areas DoD wanted to focus on from efficiencies, to ensuring the health of the defense industrial base to improving how DoD develops its requirements.
“The acquisition system depends fundamentally on one thing, the quality of the acquisition workforce, its ability to do its job,” he said. “In many cases, it is in fact in many cases rocket science. It takes true professionals to do this stuff well. If the services are not encouraging people to go into this field; if they are not rewarding people for going into it; if they are not making it something that confers status and prestige in people to be in, then we will not be getting the kind of people we need in the acquisition workforce.”
Kendall said he has spoken to all service chiefs and secretaries except for one about this and will be spending a lot of time encouraging them to elevate all elements of the acquisition workforce.
He added key leaders in the acquisition workforce such as chief engineers, contracting officers and lifecycle support people must feel like they have an important place in the department. Kendall said the leadership qualities of these people have everything to do with success and failure of a program.
Defining requirements still a struggle
Alan Chvotkin, the senior vice president and general counsel for the Professional Services Council, attended Kendall’s speech and said DoD is improving the acquisition workforce.
“We are pleased to see Secretary Panetta and others have kept the acquisition workforce apart from significant staffing reductions,” he said after the event. “There still is a lot to be done on the capabilities side, on the training side, on the education, and a long way to go in the area of tradecraft for services.”
One big issue the acquisition workforce is facing is how to bring all the skills and capabilities in the department together to develop requirements that make sense, are feasible and are specific enough for industry to bid on.
He said Congress created an organization in DoD ATL called the Program Assessment Root Case Analysis (PARCA) about 18 months ago to address performance management. PARCA is trying to figure out why programs go wrong and then build a database so others can understand why and the implications of policy decisions on programs.
“There is an enormous amount of conventional wisdom that floats around this community about what works and what doesn’t, and we tend to retry things about every 10 years or so because we don’t remember what happened last time they were tried and we don’t have any data on last time they were tried,” Kendall said. “I’ve been gathering data on some of these things.”
He said institutionalizing DoD’s ability to collect this data and use it for the future is among his first projects of 2012.
“We will put in place some capabilities to do that on the program side,” Kendall said. “We see the GAO report every year that talks about the overruns in time and cost, the schedule slips and the cost increases. I don’t think they go deep enough in understanding the root causes. The other side is the institution side, how do our institutions perform—government and contractors. We want to start to understand if there are systemic differences in the performance of different institutions so we can dig in a layer or two deeper and start to understand those things.”
Affordability and efficiencies are priorities
Part of that is elevating the need for both industry and DoD to pay closer attention to the cost of goods and services. Kendall said DoD is not going after vendor profits, but wants to buy smarter and get better value for their money.
Another priority for DoD is to make sure programs are affordable. Kendall said programs will not continue that take 3-5-7 years and produce nothing in the meantime. DoD needs to do a better of developing requirements that are feasible, specific and meaningful in terms of return on investment.
Kendall said DoD also wants to strengthen its industrial base through more competition and better performance. Kendall said DoD made some decisions in the 2013 budget request in order to keep certain sectors healthy, but it will intervene only on the rarest occasions if a specific is struggling.
“I think he’s sending a message they are looking seriously as all the components of the Defense industrial base,” Chvotkin said. “They want to know what’s taking place, but it will be the very rare case when the department will intervene particularly using its own money. They may take advantage of some of the other tools they have available, though, other contracting tools, subcontracting opportunities and partnering.”
Chvotkin said he was pleased to hear Kendall reaffirm the role and value of contractors have as part of the total force to help DoD meet is mission.