A top procurement official at the Department of Defense said Wednesday that recent changes to its framework for acquiring new software are yielding initial results.
The more flexible approach started with only a handful of programs, and the pilot is still being more fully evaluated, but initial results are positive, Stacy Cummings, acting undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, said during a virtual conference held by the National Defense Industry Association.
The Adaptive Acquisition Pathway purchasing policy, which was established in October 2020, is intended to allow DOD to do what was once difficult, if not impossible: Buy software fast and keep it updated.
“You want to work at a pace that allows the users to deliver,” she said of software teams trying to bring new tools to the department. “Early trends look really good,” added Cummings.
The DOD’s traditional acquisition approach has until recently been designed around buying big pieces of hardware, like tanks. The department is currently in the process of revamping its approach for a number of major contracts.
Historically, contracting officers would write up long requests to industry to ensure that manufacturers meet specific requirements. This process does not allow for iterative software updates, much to the chagrin of developers in and out of the department.
“Countless past studies have recognized the deficiencies in software acquisition and practices within DoD, but little seems to be changing,” the Defense Innovation Board’s (DIB) 2019 report on software acquisition stated.
Cummings said also that “dozens” of other programs are ready to be transitioned over to the software acquisition pathway, which was recommended by the DIB study.
According to Cummings, there is support in Congress for other new changes that would help the DOD improve its software acquisition practices. One of the biggest changes acquisition leaders have been pushing for is a new software “color of money,” or budget activity in technical terms. The DOD currently has different types of money, or colors, for different types of programs that have different regulations. A software-specific color would give contracting officers even more flexibility, leaders have said.
In the most recent National Defense Authorization Act, eight programs were approved to pilot the new budget activity for software and the DOD is seeking to add more with Congressional approval.