DOD Software Acquisition: Status and Challenges of Reform Efforts

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What GAO found

The Department of Defense (DOD) increasingly relies on software to operate its weapons and information technology (IT) systems. Yet DOD has long faced challenges with software development. Over the past few years, the DOD has strived to modernize its approaches to software development. For example:

New way of acquiring software. As GAO reported in June 2021, DOD created a new acquisition framework in January 2020 with six acquisition channels, including one for software. The path focused on modern software development practices, such as encouraging more frequent user feedback, as GAO recommended in March 2019. In June 2021, GAO reported that, although Although the DOD had recently started to implement this path, the department did not have a data collection strategy for this. Accordingly, we recommended that the DOD automate the data collection efforts for the course. The DOD agreed with the recommendation.

Agile development. In February 2020, the DOD released an Agile Software Acquisition Guide that incorporates lessons learned from two pilot programs and emphasizes an iterative software development process. This process enables rapid and frequent delivery of production quality software. See figure.

The Ministry of Defense’s agile development process

However, recent GAO work, including the June 2021 assessments of DOD’s weapons and enterprise computer systems, shows that many programs have yet to implement certain best practices associated with modern approaches to development. of software. For example, the GAO Agile assessment guide emphasizes the early and continuous delivery of functional software to users, and the industry recommends delivery as frequently as every 2 weeks for Agile programs. Yet as of June 2021, only six of 36 weapons programs that reported using Agile also reported delivering software to users in less than 3 months.

DOD programs also pointed out a number of other challenges that could affect their ability to implement reforms. For example, more than half of weapon systems and almost all major corporate computer programs GAO reviewed reported staffing issues related to software development, such as difficulty in hiring government personnel and under- treating.

Why GAO did this study

The GAO reported in June 2021 that the DOD planned to invest more than $ 1.8 trillion to acquire its most expensive new weapon systems. DOD is also investing billions more in IT systems and capabilities.

The William M. (Mac) Thornberry Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act included a provision for GAO to notify Congressional defense committees of the DOD’s implementation of the reforms of the acquisition of software for certain systems and activities. This report summarizes previous GAO findings on the extent to which DOD has implemented required or recommended software acquisition reforms for weapon and enterprise systems. Other elements of the provision will be dealt with in future work.

For this report, GAO reviewed its June 2021 assessments of DOD weapons and major corporate IT systems, along with other relevant past work. GAO also identified software acquisition reforms initiated in response to recent statutory mandates. No new verification work was performed for this report.


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