Agency systems reflect app evolution

Instantaneous communications made the war in Iraq unlike any other in history, said David H. Crandall, assistant deputy administrator for research, development and simulation at the National Nuclear Security Administration.

The ability to send instant e-mail or global positioning data to the battlefield was a fundamental change, Crandall said at a recent Arlington, Va., software quality forum sponsored by his agency and the Energy Department.

'We've come a long way, but I don't think we're finished,' Crandall said.

For example, he said, the military can change the targeted coordinates of weapons before they've been fired, as may have been done after intelligence data indicated Saddam Hussein's likely whereabouts on the first night of the war.

But, Crandall said, development must continue until military software can literally change a weapon's direction after it has been fired, while still in midair. That kind of instant decision-making ability might have prevented some hits on civilians, he said.

Whether deployed for war or everyday business use, such software evolutions take time, Crandall said.
New software must fully displace existing paper-based processes. 'Instead of replacing, we're adding on,' he said. 'We've got to eliminate some of this stuff.'

Safety and security are becoming software essentials rather than add-ons, said Joe Jarzombek, deputy director for software-intensive systems in the Defense Systems Directorate of the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense.

'Recent events point out more and more that safety and security are not only good things, but integral to everything we do,' he said.

Together with the Federal Aviation Administration's chief engineer for process improvement, Jarzombek said, his office has begun developing best practices for safety and security under the Integrity Assurance program. The Army, Navy, NASA, Energy and other agencies are taking part.

The Integrity Assurance program will be part of Version 2.0 of the FAA's Integrated Capability Maturity Model as well as Version 1.1 of the Capability Maturity Model Integration for systems engineering, developed by the federally funded Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.

Selected source documents about the best practices appear online, at under 'Review Package for the New Integrity Assurance PA Extension to the CMMI and iCMM.'
Released about a year and a half ago, the original CMMI's 32 best practices were based on existing software standards that hadn't formally incorporated safety and security, Jarzombek said.

On the agenda

After the new draft was released late last year, he said, a new steering committee began making integrity assurance a higher priority. The committee suggested 26 draft best practices.

Two DOD organizations will pilot the Integrity Assurance program, and a technical note could be published this summer on guidance for source security and safety standards.

But the Integrity Assurance program is not mandatory. Another recommendation for a software program overhaul, this one undertaken by Energy, would be more stringent.

Based on a recommendation by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, Energy has an action plan for safety software at nuclear plants.

This year and next, the department's Office of the Environment, Safety and Health will pinpoint weaknesses in the software that runs safety functions.

The nuclear facilities board said last September that the department's software quality assurance improvement plan had not yet produced any substantive results.

Energy secretary Spencer Abraham promised a stronger implementation plan for:
  • Identifying and documenting roles of personnel responsible for safety software under the Technical Qualification Standard

  • Assessing current safety software and potential effectiveness of quality assurance programs to bridge the gaps

  • Identifying common toolbox codes for safety analysis

  • Developing a continuous improvement process across the department.

'We're just starting to think about how we want to do this,' said Raymond J. Hardwick, acting deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Corporate Safety Assurance. 'We have a lot of work to do, and a lot of it is first-time kind of work.'

The nuclear facilities board has continued to point out problems with safety-related systems at the BWXT Pantex plant, a nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility in Amarillo, Texas. Although the plant has begun implementing software quality assurance, the board said it 'may be jeopardized by observed inadequacies in software engineering practices.'

The board asked for action from NNSA to improve quality assurance at Pantex.


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