EDITORIAL

Why roll your own?

Thomas R. Temin

When it comes to software development, the Defense Department has found itself on the defensive a lot lately.

Defense agencies and the services uniformly extol the virtues of commercial products for ordinary business functions such as travel and accounting. After all, why should the department, which is still a long way from implementing its vision of a digitized battlefield occupied by technology-laden soldiers, sailors and airmen, waste time and energy on custom back-office applications?

But DOD brass don't always follow their own advice.

And the department's continuing development of custom applications is irritating some of its overseers.

Recently, the House Appropriations Committee slashed fiscal 2001 funding for the Defense Joint Accounting System project. Lawmakers cited, among other problems, a lack of compliance with the Information Technology Management Reform Act. DJAS is based on homegrown Army software.

A second example is the Defense Travel System, under development by TRW Inc. To be paid for with transaction fees, the system also has drawn scrutiny, especially as to whether its public-key infrastructure will mesh with a broader Defense PKI.

In both instances, a good case can made for DOD using existing commercial programs. Rather than plow ahead with the troubled Defense Travel System, DOD could piggyback on the governmentwide Web travel system that the Transportation Department plans to roll out by year's end [GCN, Aug. 7, Page 1].

And the General Services Administration maintains a schedule of contracts offering off-the-shelf financial packages suitable for federal use.

So, again the question: Why should Defense develop custom systems that only serve to further a stovepipe mentality? One would think the department would jump to commercial apps for critical but mundane processes so it can concentrate on its truly mission-specific warfighting initiatives.

No doubt any commercial package would need some customizing. Even so, such programs would require far less'in effort, expense and predictability'than roll-your-own apps.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director

E-mail: editor@gcn.com

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