Pentagon seeks to cement career paths of software acquisition experts


Much of the Pentagon’s latest combat concepts rely on acquiring and integrating new technologies into military services, especially software capabilities like artificial intelligence and machine learning, but officials say these efforts could be difficult without an equally tech-savvy acquisition workforce.

Over the past year, the Department of Defense has piloted “Career Planning for Digital Acquisition,” according to Tory Cuff, Senior Advisor for Agile Acquisitions in the DoD Acquisition and Sustainment Office .

“How can we provide this multidisciplinary foundational training that responds to evolving concepts and really explains why and how agility can be applied, not only to your engineering approach, but throughout your procurement strategy? of markets, “Cuff said at an event Wednesday. hosted by GovExec.

The Defense Innovation Board’s influential May 2019 report on software acquisition called for “new mechanisms” to attract, educate, retain and promote digital talent. “The current processes and culture of DoD personnel will not allow their military and civilian software capabilities to grow fast enough or deep enough to meet the needs of their mission,” he said.

Cuff said the DoD needs more than software engineers and coders to successfully adopt new digital software and technologies. She said the DoD is updating the policy and guidelines to ensure its procurement staff are using the DevSecOps software practices recommended in the department’s new agile procurement framework.

“We need all of our staff to have, in my opinion, an understanding of digital fundamentals to the same extent that we are comfortable with Microsoft Excel and Word,” she said. “The purchase of cloud technologies, responsiveness to changing technology, which must be understood from a program manager to a contracting officer so that they can use all the tools in their toolbelt, to be able to draft contracts to provide advice to suppliers, so that it is executable and really meets the demand of our users.

The DoD has been testing the pilot workforce across multiple disciplines since October 2020, and the Cuff team is in talks with the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center to expand the pilot to an AI specialty as well, he said. she declared.

“I would like us to be on par and competitive with the industry, and the department is in this flow with ‘insert startup here’, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, we are in this cycle of hiring employees,” Cuff said.

The Defense Innovation Unit is also testing a new project authorized in last year’s NDAA to create an Uber-like app to connect reservists with DoD organizations that need specialist skills, according to Mike Madsen. The project is called “Gig Eagle” and DIU issued a call for proposals to create the app earlier this summer.

“DoD entities can put whatever they want, they may need reservists who can code in Python, and there may be reservists working somewhere who code in Python, and they could log in that way. “Madsen told the GovExec event.

Congress is considering even more new authorities to allow tech-savvy personnel to enter and exit government under this year’s Defense Authorization Bill.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the legislation would establish a civilian cybersecurity reserve pilot project at US Cyber ​​Command. The temporary pilot program would allow the head of CYBERCOM to respond to cyber incidents by “non-competitively appointing members of the Civil Cybersecurity Reserve to temporary positions in the competitive service”, according to the legislation.

Meanwhile, an amendment submitted for consideration in the House version of the bill would establish a national digital reserve corps at the General Services Administration.

The program “would allow tech talent in the private sector to work for the federal government for 30 days per calendar year to undertake short-term digital, cybersecurity and AI projects,” a summary of the provision reads. “Reservists would report to the GSA, who would then detail them to executive agencies as needed. “

The House is debating the defense bill this week and had yet to consider the reserve corps amendment at press time. However, the proposal is expected to be included in a block set of amendments, which means it will likely be incorporated into the House bill.

The American Federation of Government Employees has raised concerns over the digital reserve corps proposal, warning that it could erode trust in government.

“While we recognize the valid intent of the program, we hope to work with the sponsors of the amendment to address the need for public disclosure when private companies send so-called ‘reservists’ to federal agencies to gain insider knowledge. of agency organization and practices, “AFGE wrote in a September 22 letter to House lawmakers.

“In addition, we believe that federal agencies should play a greater role in defining the scope of the deployment requirement to avoid waste and allow for an extension of deployment times so that it functions more as a reserve that could benefit agencies rather than training. platform for industry.

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