Cumbersome federal acquisition rules an obstacle to IT flexibility

Published 23 August 2007

Cumbersome acquisition rules designed for building weapons systems and computing platforms are hampering adoption of rapidly evolving information technology networks

Rules and regulations which may be effective and helpful in one era may be debilitating in another. In evidence: Cumbersome acquisition rules designed more for building weapons systems and computing platforms are posing an increasing obstacle to rapidly evolving information technology networks, a panel of generals said at the LandWarNet conference being held this week in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “One of the biggest challenges within the Department of Defense is ourselves and the FAR [Federal Acquisition Rules],” said Brig. Gen. George Allen, director of command, control, communications and computers for the Marine Corps. GCN’s Wyatt Kash reports that Allen cited the frustration his group experienced in Operation Iraqi Freedom 1 in installing the largest communications and data network ever built by the Marines. The project used the latest available technologies “from an acquisition point of view, but which in fact were four years old,” he said. “We had to buy new Dell servers and Cisco routers to get the network to work” as intended. “When you’re talking switchers and routers, they change every six months,” Allen said, but federal acquisition regulations (FAR) rules do not allow the necessary flexibility to keep networks evolving to meet emerging needs. “We buy IT systems the way we buy aircraft carriers,” he said, noting that contract rules need to be changed for basic technology refreshes.

In another case, efforts to participate in the Joint Network Node were also hampered by FAR rules, Allen said. “We couldn’t get on the JNN because of concerns that small businesses would sue us” based on contracting requirements, he said. “We had to buy off of different contracts” as a consequence, he said, resulting in a missed savings opportunities. “The biggest thing we could do would be to change the FAR.”

Alas, U.S. forces are not alone. Brigadier John Thomas MBE, ADC Headquarter Signal Officer in Chief, speaking for coalition forces in the United Kingdom, also lamented the compromises contracting constraints place on the British military’s IT vision. “Acquisition understands platforms because they can count them, but not networks,” Thomas said. They’re not like tanks; we need to change the culture, he added.

“We know we’re never going to have the newest thing on the street,” said Maj. Gen. Walter Zink II, commander, Operational Command Post 1, U.S. Army North. As armed forces increasingly need to share information, he said, it will be important to work to “commonality” of systems for operators.