The Pentagon Must Improve IT Procurement | Citizens Against Government Waste

The Pentagon Must Improve IT Procurement

The WasteWatcher

The Department of Defense (DOD) has a long track record of procurement ineptitude and disasters, including the $436 hammer and $640 toilet seat that was uncovered and publicized by the Grace Commission in the 1980s.  But the most persistent and critical procurement issues are related to information technology (IT) systems.  The DOD has published dozens of reports and studies on IT modernization, including its 2019 modernization strategy report, which noted that the agency operates “one of the world’s largest and most complex set of networks ... with “roughly ten thousand operational systems, thousands of data centers, tens of thousands of servers, millions of computers and IT devices, and hundreds of thousands of commercial mobile devices.” 

Despite the clear need to update and upgrade this massive IT network, the procurement process has mostly failed to deliver what the DOD needs.  A recent example of an essential IT system that has failed to get off the ground is the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud services.  JEDI was a 10-year $10 billion contract for a single source enterprise-level commercial cloud solution, including infrastructure as a service and platform as a service, for all defense agencies and military branches.  The contract was awarded to Microsoft Corporation after a lengthy procurement process that included court challenges related to the initial request for proposal (RFP).  On July 6, 2021, the DOD announced that it was pulling back the contract for rebidding.

Among the problems with the original RFP was the preference by DOD contracting officers for a single cloud solution over a multi-cloud/multi-vendor approach.  As noted by Citizens Against Government Waste President Tom Schatz in July 2019, “Private industry-wide best practices call for multiple cloud solutions.  Indeed, the individual military services have rejected single cloud providers.  When the RFP for JEDI was announced, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Lt. General VeraLinn ‘Dash’ Jamieson said that ‘multi-cloud’ will give the enemy ‘a targeting problem’ and she does not want to use a single cloud solution.  In September 2018, the Navy awarded a multi-cloud, multi-vendor contract of up to $95 million to CSRA, a General Dynamics Information Technology Company, which will be the ‘the commercial cloud broker for the Navy.’  Both the Army’s Accent contract and the Air Force’s managed services office will be multi-cloud, multi-vendor deals.”

Given the plethora of cyber-attacks across all industries in the past year, ensuring that government entities have multiple cloud service portals would make U.S. cyber defenses more robust by spreading targets out.  This would make it harder to bring down critical systems inside and outside of the government.  In addition, since the original RFP was drafted in a vendor and technology specific manner, bidding precluded all but initially one and later two vendors from participating in the procurement bidding process.  The new procurement effort, the Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability (JWCC) is supposed to be a multi-cloud/multi-vendor Indefinite Delivery-Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract, which must result in a better outcome, and the specifications must be based on what is required for the new system to enhance warfighter capabilities.  The Pentagon’s announcement on the future of JEDI stated the initial round of proposals will be requested from only Microsoft and Amazon Web Services, which have been determined through “available market research” as the only two Cloud Service Providers vendors that can meet the DOD’s requirements.  But the department will also immediately expand its market research to see if any other companies can meet the requirements and then negotiate with them.  This search should be thorough and transparent.  The award is expected to be made as early as Spring 2022.

Another way to improve IT at the DOD is to reinstate the non-military position of Chief Management Officer (CMO), which was briefly the third highest-ranking civilian job at the Pentagon.  During her time in the position, CMO Lisa Hershman identified millions of dollars that could be redistributed to help support the warfighter.  But Congress chose to dismantle the CMO office in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, despite the cost savings achieved.  In a July 10, 2020 Facebook Live broadcast with CAGW, then-CMO Lisa Hershman noted that the DOD was spending vast sums to stock its commissary system with items of limited interest to customers.  According to Ms. Hershman, of the “1.4 million items carried, nearly 1 million produced less that $1,000 in revenue each year, including 23 brands of apple juice.”  She said her office identified $22.3 billion in savings between fiscal years 2018 and 2021, which were being reinvested in war fighting, enabling the DOD to better perform its core function of national defense.  Eliminating the independent CMO and spreading these duties among several DOD offices will result in more wasteful spending and less accountability across the department.  Congress will likely regret its decisions and hopefully reinstate the civilian CMO position.

Missteps in procurement can happen at any level of government, through mismanaged contracting and inadvisable congressional mandates.  Congress and federal agencies should always evaluate the benefits and the risks of contracts and actions prior to making final decisions that affect not only the bottom line, but also the ability of the agencies to carry out their missions effectively and efficiently.

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