A Roadmap for Reforming the DoD’s Acquisition of Information Technology


Posted: March 14, 2016 | By: John M. Gilligan

Senior leaders within DoD, Congress, and industry have grappled for many years with the inability of the Department of Defense’s (DoD) acquisition processes to deliver timely and effective information technology (IT) solutions.   The problems are well documented in a number of studies and reports. [Ref 1, 2, 3, 4]  Common conclusions of these studies are shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Problems with DoD IT Acquisition

  • Acquisition processes are based on weapon systems and are too slow and costly.
  • Requirements and technology change faster than capabilities can be delivered.
  • Few IT projects are delivered on time and within budget; many are cancelled before any delivery.


A philosophical turning point in the longstanding discussion about how to fix DoD’s IT acquisition problems was the Defense Science Board’s (DSB) report in 2009.  The DSB concluded that it was not possible to tailor the current DoD’s acquisition processes, documented in the so-called 5000 series directives, for acquiring information technology capabilities.  Instead, a new acquisition process designed for the special characteristics of information technology was needed [Ref 5].  This philosophy was embraced by Congress in Section 804 of the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act for DoD.  Congress directed DoD to develop a new acquisition process for acquiring information technology [Ref 6].   The resulting efforts within the DoD to implement Congressional direction resulted in a strategy for a new acquisition process for IT that was subsequently documented in a December 2010 Report to Congress [Ref 7].  

  • The DoD’s Report to Congress identified top level characteristics of the envisioned new acquisition process. Among these characteristics were the following:
  • Short duration projects delivering capabilities in 6-12 months;
  • Use of agile processes and development methods;
  • Adopting capability-based portfolios as a consistent organizing structure across the disciplines of requirements,  funding, and development/procurement  (i.e., short duration projects would be specified, funded, and implemented from portfolios);
  • Use of pre-tailored acquisition process models (templates) corresponding to types of acquisition;
  • Employment of common IT computing platforms;
  • Frequent acquisition progress reviews in lieu of infrequent milestone decision points;
  • Integrated, concurrent test and evaluation and security certification.

With the publishing of the Report to Congress and the establishment of teams to flesh out the concepts summarized in the Report to Congress, there was optimism in early 2011 that significant improvements were on the horizon.   This optimism began to fade in late summer 2011 as progress on DoD’s efforts to further define the new IT acquisition process stalled.  Likely, the recommendations to move to a portfolio-based construct across requirements, funding, and program implementation was viewed as having too large of an impact on the various DoD processes.  As discussions on implementation of the portfolio construct reached an impasse, work on the other efforts to define a new acquisition process for IT were also stopped.

At present, IT acquisition reform efforts have taken a back seat to DoD’s efforts to adjust to troop withdrawals and budget reductions in 2012 and even larger budget impacts in future years.  Nevertheless, improvement in IT acquisition is being addressed as a part of an ongoing revision to DoD’s 5000 series acquisition directives.  It is too early to tell if this effort will yield significant improvement in the speed, cost, and effectiveness of IT acquisition.

In view of the lack of progress in achieving significant reform of DoD’s IT acquisition processes, this paper provides a recommended Roadmap for implementation of IT acquisition reforms.  In particular, the Roadmap proposes that DoD prioritize their reform efforts in order to very quickly implement changes that can be done now, in particular changes that can be made without major policy or legislative changes.  In parallel, DoD should continue to work on the definition and coordination of those IT reform initiatives that will take longer to implement.  In the paper, the characteristics of acquisition reform for IT defined in the December 2010 Report to Congress have been allocated to one of three major Phases of the Roadmap as shown in Table 2.

Table 2:  Acquisition Reform Phases

  • Phase 1: Implement Now!
  • Phase 2: Change DoD Policies.
  • Phase 3: Work Legislation Changes

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