The issue of how to manage “IT acquisitions” is causing much consternation at the Defense Department. The problem is that the Pentagon procurement system treats information technology as if it were a weapon system. In other words, it can take a decade to acquire. By the time the technology is fielded, it is five generations too old.
“Technology is moving faster than the acquisition process that we have in place,” says Frank Anderson, president of the Defense Acquisition University. The Pentagon also needs to revamp its IT acquisition work force, he tells an industry conference. Of 4,000 people who run IT programs, 75 percent are baby boomers. Training is another priority. “We’re reviewing our IT curriculum to ensure we’re delivering the right training for the community.”
Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter agrees that IT programs are an “area of concern.” The Defense Department is struggling to “create an acquisition approach to IT that takes into account the differences between IT and weapons systems,” he says at a Council on Foreign Relations talk.
Technology is fast moving, so programs have to be planned differently. IT also tends to shake up the business practices of an organization and creates an “identity crisis,” says Carter. It forces people to question why they’re doing things the way they’re doing them.
Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., says the procurement system treats IT as if it were water or ammunition. He chairs a special panel on defense acquisition reform that specifically is studying ways to overhaul how the Pentagon buys information systems.