The Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (FY 2017 NDAA) is arguably the most ambitious overhaul of the Department of Defense (DOD) since the Goldwater-Nichols reforms of 1986. After thirty years, Congress recognized the pressing need to update processes and authorities which were originally created at a time when ideas were jotted down by a pencil on a pad and then transferred to typewriters. The capabilities we know today were just imagined. One of the most important reforms is the split of the Office of the Under Secretary for Acquisition Technology and Logistics (AT&L).
This important policy decision sends a clear message that the ‘old way of doing business’ is no longer the best governance model for a 21st century DOD. The implications of this split shows great promise and garnered support from the IT Alliance for Public Sector (ITAPS), representing the federal information technology (IT) provider industry.
Why is an administrative shake-up receiving this much attention? During numerous congressional hearings leading up to the NDAA, lawmakers had expressed their concern that the U.S. military was losing its technological competitive edge. They were frustrated by a system that took the Pentagon multiple years to bring in and integrate commercially available technology—technology that is also being quickly adopted by potential adversaries far more rapidly.
This was an impetus for the split of the Office of the Under Secretary for Acquisition Technology and Logistics. This major restructuring looks to streamline and specialize two very distinct, but important, efforts within the DoD. While innovation used to be the realm of the government and the military, it is now largely driven by the private sector and the commercial marketplace. In the NDAA, lawmakers recognized that shift and have reorganized the Pentagon to be better positioned to embrace and incorporate the innovations of the private sector. This reform looks to focus and specialize those two very distinct, but important, efforts separately within the DOD.
The AT&L office will be divided by February 1, 2018, into two distinct under secretarial offices. The first office will be the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (USD R&E). The second office is the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment (USD A&S).
The USD R&E will be responsible for “serving as the chief technology officer of the Department of Defense (DOD) with the mission of advancing technology and innovation for the armed forces (and the Department)”. Responsible for all defense research and engineering, this important position within the DoD becomes the third most senior position (supplanting the former USD AT&L) below the Secretary of Defense and the Deputy Secretary of Defense. This distinction highlights the seriousness with which Congress views the national security imperative to sustain the DOD’s technological superiority.
The USD A&S will be responsible for “serving as the chief acquisition and sustainment officer of the Department of Defense with the mission of delivering and sustaining timely, cost-effective capabilities for the armed forces (and the Department)”. This new Under Secretarial office is responsible for the delivery of timely and cost-effective platforms and systems to the warfighter. With this change, the USD A&S is now a more focused office, meant to reform and refine acquisition policies and procedures.
The importance of this update cannot be understated. No longer is information technology (IT) a back-room operation as it was when Goldwater-Nichols was first written decades ago. Besides our individual men and women and uniform, information technology and cyber capabilities are critical for success in the information age battlespace. Without successful and secure IT procurement and policies, the DOD will always be playing catchup at a time when innovation and agility drive victory.