Startups press Congress to improve how DOD buys software

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Founders and CEOs of 19 national security-focused technology startups and small businesses pressed Congress this week to resolve specific hurdles they’re encountering associated with how the Pentagon buys software.

Their proposals come as lawmakers are working on fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) legislation — and as software is considered increasingly critical to ensure military advantage in modern conflicts.

In a three-page letter penned to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees on Wednesday, the executives spotlighted some of what they deemed to be “key challenges in the defense acquisition process that slow the cycle time and impede innovative software companies’ ability to quickly deliver” capabilities to the Pentagon. 

“Software is critical in the new battlespace to ensure proactive defense, responsiveness, and adaptability when competing with near-peer adversaries,” they wrote in the letter, which was obtained by FedScoop on Thursday.

In particular, they called for a better Defense Department pathway for buying readily available Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings. SaaS capabilities essentially provide a means of delivering technology applications remotely over the internet — as opposed to locally. 

“We recommend funding and authorization to allow military services to contract directly with SaaS product providers for software capabilities within programs of record for the acquisition of hardware platforms,” the executives wrote. 

“Fortune 500 companies today routinely use SaaS-based systems to stay competitive in the commercial world,” they noted. The U.S. “national defense community urgently needs to leverage SaaS products, so we can stay ahead of our adversaries in the rapidly-evolving digital battlespace.”

Further, the group called on policymakers to standardize the application of existing acquisition pathways across all of the military branches. They’d also like to see the reauthorization of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer Research (STTR) program and the institution of “targeted reforms to assist small businesses in scaling contracts with the government from prototypes to production.”

Additionally, the executives urged the establishment of a clear pathway for extensive use of continuous Authority To Operate, which is the formal declaration that authorizes products to be used by agencies.

They wrote that they believe these recommendations “would significantly ease barriers to entry and allow small businesses dedicated to building mission-focused software the opportunity to break through the valley of death more quickly, thereby increasing innovation and technological superiority for the Department of Defense.” The term “valley of death” in the federal acquisition world refers to struggles to transition promising technologies into large-scale procurement.

The companies involved aimed to inform NDAA conference discussions before Congress’ August recess, FedScoop confirmed.

Those signed on to the correspondence include: Rebellion Defense, Recorded Future, Copado, Fiddler AI, Percipient.ai, Keeper, CalypsoAI, Interos, SandboxAQ, Nuvolo, LeoLabs, SparkCognition Government Systems, Second Front Systems, Tricentis, Aqua, Armis, Devo Security, Corelight and Jama Software.

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House Armed Services Committee, Senate Armed Services Committee, software, software-as-a-service, Software Acquisition
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