The Department of Defense is still in the early stages of an experiment to change the way it finances software development, but it already plans to put this test into rocket fuel, mainly due to the addition of a huge program of the Navy.
As part of its 2022 budget proposal, the Pentagon is asking Congress to drastically expand the number of dollars that can be spent through a pilot effort to test a new “color of money” for software, including through the use of the largest IT program. to the federal government.
The idea, recommended first by external advisory groups, including the Defense Innovation Board and the Section 809 Panel, is to let DoD fund information technology through a single category of appropriations, rather than multiple R&D accounts. D, operations and maintenance (O&M) and contracting: construction of hardware-centered financing that is almost antithetical to agile software development and continuous delivery.
By 2022, the digital software and technology pilot program would include ten programs, which would go from $ 663 million invested this year to $ 2.3 billion. But the overwhelming majority of the increase comes from the addition of a single program: the Navy’s next-generation business network (NGEN), which alone costs $ 955 million.
Through two new contracts with Leidos and HP, worth nearly $ 10 billion throughout its life cycle, the Navy uses the NGEN program to consolidate the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet with its overseas counterpart, ONENet. Funding will also be earmarked for the modernization of the new unified business naval network, including physical infrastructure upgrades and its new architecture to interface more smoothly with commercial clouds.
But Navy officials said trying to make a complicated effort to use three different colors of federal funding will only slow it down.
“If I’m in a DevSecOps cycle, I’m developing today, I’ll deploy tomorrow,” Jane Rathbun, the Navy’s chief technology officer, said last week during the Navy Department’s annual East Coast IT conference. “If I’m developing today, I’ll use RDT & E dollars, if I do tomorrow, I’ll use O&M dollars, and we can’t work so fast with different colors of money. That slows us down. So the pilot has to show that we can go faster ”.
Last year, Congress approved nine programs for the first pilot of software appropriations and told the department to report with periodic updates on financial and performance metrics for each. So far, each of the programs has been much smaller than NGEN.
Another addition in 2022 would be $ 186 million for DoD’s Joint Intelligence Operations Center. The front-line documents seemed to indicate that the department intended to channel all JAIC funding through the new software appropriation, but detailed budget justifications for this office have not yet been released as of the budget presentation. last Friday.
The budget request would also continue with eight other programs funded through the “colorless” appropriation in 2021:
- Army software prototypes for defensive cyber operations: $ 119 million, up from $ 57 million in 2021
- The Navy’s risk management initiative: $ 14 million, unchanged
- Navy Tactical Command and Control System (MTC2): $ 15 million, up from $ 11 million in 2021
- The Kobayashi Maru program of the Space Force: 154 million dollars, compared to 150 million in 2021
- National Defense Security and Counterintelligence Agency Fundraising System: $ 124 million, compared to $ 110 million in 2021
- The DoD Acquisition and Maintenance Visibility Program: $ 18 million, up from $ 17 million in 2021
- Global Defense Information Systems Command and Control System: $ 33 million, up from $ 76 million in 2021
- DoD’s Maven Project: $ 247 million, up from $ 230 million in 2021
Rathbun said his service wanted to move even more programs to the software appropriation program by 2022, but Navy budget officials were nervous about doing so, given the magnitude of the NGEN program they are already requesting. .
Aside from its size, another reason NGEN’s application could raise eyebrows at Capitol Hill is that the Navy is asking permission to use the appropriation of colorless software for the entire NGEN program, not just for to the software development work of the DIB and the 809. The group had in mind when they made their recommendations.
For example, of the $ 955 million, nearly half ($ 439 million) would go to the day-to-day management of the network, including features such as help desks, the purchase of desktops and laptops, and data center management. cloud services. And, from the point of view of the color of money, this part of NGEN is already relatively simple: absent from the new colorless appropriation, the Navy said its spending of $ 409 million in this category of “network management” it would have been funded through O&M dollars.
Another $ 244 million would go to buy and manage software licenses. Without the software account, the full amount would also be paid through a hassle-free O&M appropriation.
And at least part of the appropriation of the software would be used for purchases that are not, strictly speaking, information technology and much less software. Six million would go to items such as air conditioning systems and UPS batteries in Navy data centers, emergency generators, and diesel tanks to power those generators.
But in its budget presentation on Friday, the Navy argued that the entire NGEN program requires a flexible and agile funding approach. Recent evidence of this, officials said, is the huge and sudden increase in demand for VPN connections and Internet bandwidth driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the subsequent move by the Navy to transit all your workforce to a snapshot hosted in the Microsoft 365 cloud earlier than expected.
The funding will be used to “transform” the Navy’s intranet-based architecture into a new construction, called the Navy Digital Platform, officials wrote.
“He [NGEN portfolio] represents a flexible and agile IT approach, which uses an architecture and services strategy aligned with best business practices. The new approach to service delivery includes various supplies, use of cloud / web-scale infrastructure and software-defined flexibility, ”according to the budget documents. “In fiscal year 2022, NEN will implement a technical enterprise architecture that replaces obsolete technologies associated with the NMCI and ONE-Net platforms, integrate streamlined users and services, implement enabled business processes and service management frameworks, and provide guidance for to future investment areas at all levels of classification and operating environments. This includes network modeling and simulation, performance-based prototyping, and applied research into future technologies that affect network architectures to advance the state of networks in all domains. “
In the first volume of its findings on how to improve the Defense Acquisition system, the Section 809 panel took a similar view: essentially, the larger and more complex IT systems are, the more likely they are to be seen. stuck by the traditional model of separate funding deposits for development, acquisition and maintenance.
“There is no significant distinction between RDT&E, contracting or O&M for software systems developed according to agile and modular principles,” the group wrote. “These funding constraints block the development of rigid and predetermined enterprise defense systems fundamentally at odds with widely accepted best practices for commercial software development.”
One of the reasons to believe that the thesis is the group’s analysis also found that when Defense components funded their IT projects using the traditional weapon system model, the money was spent in a way too much. familiar. About 10% of its funding was reduced during the last seven days of the fiscal year.
“Much of the data … is probably not related to DBS, but simply represents the purchase of computers and other equipment for daily use in the office. This analysis, however, quantifies one of the most clearly visible in which the appropriation system produces biased incentives for IT acquisition ”.