GAO, Defense at odds over software report

GAO, Defense at odds over software report

Navy Adm. Dennis C. Blair says IT products need more testing in realistic situations.

The General Accounting Office took Defense Department acquisition practices to task last month in two reports. One criticized DOD's method of purchasing services and the other slammed the Defense Logistics Agency for its software procurement procedures.

In a Jan. 10 report, GAO said DLA lacked a mature software acquisition process. Later in the month, the congressional watchdog agency found that although DOD'the government's largest purchaser of services'spends billions of dollars each year to acquire IT products and services, the process is flawed.

Although the department agreed with GAO's recommendations to improve its services acquisition process, DLA argued that criticism of its Fuels Automated System was misplaced.

GAO compared the logistics agency's FAS and Business Systems Modernization program with six models established by Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute to gauge software process maturity. BSM scored well using this formula, fully satisfying the requirements in most areas. FAS scored poorly, failing to fully satisfy any requirements.

Put in context

Mae De Vincentis, the agency's CIO and director of information operations, disagreed with GAO's findings on the system. She said FAS was rated unfairly because it is an older program that started in the early 1990s before best practices guidance was offered for software acquisition.

'We felt that GAO did not acknowledge the timing of the BSM and Fuels Automated Systems programs,' she said, adding that BSM 'capitalized on lessons learned from the FAS experience and has used software acquisition best practices since the very start.'

De Vincentis also said that contrary to GAO's findings, her agency does have a software process improvement program in place.

'GAO tends to require a document trail,' De Vincentis said. 'In this case we were in the process of formalizing a revitalized program as we transitioned from largely in-house software development to primary reliance on acquisition of commercial software.'

In its report on service acquisitions, GAO studied six top businesses and found that each one planned to expand its procurement office, and assign commodity managers to oversee key services and manage acquisition performance. Defense needs similar strategies, the report said.

'Senior DOD leadership has recognized the need to improve its processes for acquiring services, especially as it increasingly relies on the acquisition of services to meet its needs,' the report said.

Since 1990, DOD's purchases of services'particularly IT, management and administrative services'has increased by more than 16 percent, the report found. In fiscal 2000, Defense bought $53 billion in services.

Too many cooks

DOD's problem is that responsibility for acquiring services is not centralized but instead lies with individual commands, the report said.

GAO also criticized Defense for not defining many service contracting efforts clearly, failing to fully consider alternatives or conduct vigorous price analyses, and inadequately overseeing contractors.

That criticism was echoed by Navy Adm. Dennis C. Blair, commander of the Pacific Command. Blair said the military needs to speed the pace and fix the process of acquiring IT products and services. To get new technologies to warfighters faster, Blair said at a conference last month, products need more testing in realistic situations.

He said current acquisition methods fail to put system engineers and developers in touch with users to gauge their needs.

GAO recommended that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld expand the duties of a senior-level integrated process team. GAO said the committee could evaluate the feasibility of a centralized approach to coordinate and manage service purchases.

Defense agreed with GAO's findings and is developing ways to improve the acquisition process, according to the department's official response to the report.

'As the GAO report accurately states, DOD is developing an oversight process for the acquisition of services,' Donna S. Richbourg, director of acquisition initiatives for the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense, wrote in the department's response. 'One of the principal purposes of that oversight process is to ensure that acquisitions of services are clear in their requirements, are properly planned, and that desired outcomes are identified and can be measured.'

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