Written by Mark Pomerleau
Members of the House Armed Services Committee are taking aim at underperforming software within the Department of Defense.
The HASC subcommittee on cyber, innovative technologies, and information systems’ mark of the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act includes a provision that would require the Pentagon to contract with a federally funded research and development center to conduct an independent study on the impacts and challenges associated with the use of software and information technology.
“This is getting at the fundamentals of if we do not have properly functioning IT or software, what is it costing us,” a committee aide told reporters Tuesday before the subcommittee marked up the proposal ahead of the full committee markup slated for June 22.
This ultimately gets down to better efficiency and use of resources, the aide noted, citing examples of military personnel waiting for their devices to boot up or load, rather than spending time training or performing other important tasks.
“We thought if we could quantify that as many commercial companies do in terms of the cost imposed in terms of lost time, that we could have a number that we could take and illustrate that investing in things like software and IT actually will save the department money in terms of lost working hours,” the aide said.
In an open letter penned earlier this year, Michael Kanaan, director of operations for the U.S. Air Force and MIT Artificial Intelligence Accelerator, prodded department leadership to “fix our computers,” citing various complaints about long wait times to get computers running and outdated applications and software.
“Want innovation? You lost literally HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of employee hours last year because computers don’t work. Fix our computers,” he wrote. “You tell us to accelerate change or lose, then fix our computers. Before buying another plane, tank, or ship, fix our computers.”
The independent review the subcommittee panel is calling for would include a survey of armed services members to identify the most important software and IT challenges that result in lost working hours, a summary of the policy or technical challenges that limit the ability of the service secretaries to implement needed software and IT reforms, and recommendations to address challenges.
The panel also wants to take a hard look at the office of the chief information officer in an attempt to improve its ability to perform the vast functions under its purview, including requiring an independent posture review of staffing levels.
“We ask a lot of the CIO’s office. It has statutorily defined responsibilities over the electromagnetic spectrum, position, navigation and timing, IT architecture, networking, information assurance, cybersecurity, cyber capabilities — they do all this with quite a small staff. So this is ensuring that staffing and the workforce are of an adequate size and expertise,” a committee aide said.