Air Force’s procurement prototype avoids ‘shoehorning’ IT acquisition

How is the Air Force’s information technology like a B-21 bomber?

The two will stay far apart — at least in terms of acquisition — if the service has its way.

Lt. Gen. Bill Bender, the Air Force’s chief of information dominance and chief information officer, says he is pushing out a procurement process prototype that will recognize IT for what it really is: different.

“What we have to do is instantiate a process end to end, that ends up in a program office with sustainment, but break down all the barriers that come with ‘this is a weapons systems enabling capability as opposed to a major acquisition development,'” Bender told an audience at the Nov. 3 SINET showcase in Washington, D.C. “Buying a toolset for your network is different than building out a carrier or a B-21 in the case of the Air Force.”

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Bender told Federal News Radio it was a learn-as-you-go effort to connect vendors with end users, and the hope was “to design a process that actually works, rather than trying to shoehorn everything into a process that doesn’t work.”

Earlier in the week Bender said this new  process does have support, but the hardest sell was with the service’s acquisition office.

What he heard was there doesn’t need to be another process, or it’s already being done, Bender said at a Nov. 1 Defense Systems Summit “JIE and the New Military Landscape” event, held in Pentagon City, Virginia.

“I’m like, if we already did we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Bender said. “That was the past, now we’re to the point where we’re actually ready to turn this framework …  into a process and move out from there.”

Bender said the prototyping is expected to take 2 or 3 years, and will include collaborative partnerships across the Air Force.

A game changer

This new acquisition approach is part of the Air Force’s overall move into the Joint Information Environment (JIE), a four-year-old unification effort and security improvement for the Defense Department’s roughly 15,000 IT networks.

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A key part of JIE is the implementation of the Joint Regional Security Stacks (JRSS), the DoD’s multi-year migration to a shared cybersecurity system.

“The first thing to understand is that JIE is a concept, not a program of record,” Bender said at the SINET showcase. “There’s a whole host of initiatives that support this vision to the future of a single security architecture. The irony of ironies here is that that’s how we fight, and have for a long time. The underpinnings of the strength of our military is the ability to jointly address would-be adversaries, so now we’re going to have the supporting infrastructure and architecture in our IT systems, to actually support that.”

John Bergin, business technology officer for the DoD CIO, said during the showcase that while JIE was a concept, getting to that concept required JRSS.

“The JRSS is the functional ‘how you do the transit,'” Bergin said, adding that JRSS would also be a benefit to small businesses.

“We now have an on-ramp that’s a shared on-ramp for industry to come and engage with us,” Bergin said. “We have a playbook that you can say if I want to integrate and add value in the cyber realm, I know what I’m going to plug into, I know what to expect across the board. So where you used to have to engage at a base camp, post-station level and really have that sales force everywhere, the smaller companies now have an on-ramp to engage with us and we’re really excited about that.”

Lt. Gen. Robert Ferrell, the Army’s chief information officer, said the move to JRSS reduces the Army’s attack surface.

The Army’s non-joint stack environment means the service has more than 1,200 “back doors” into its network.

“Imagine taking out those back doors and replacing it with a joint stack, which will allow each of the services to communicate through,” Ferrell said. “It’s a good game changer for all of us.”