Disrupting Acquisition Blog

6 Key Acquisition Provisions in the FY20 NDAA Bills

by | Jul 9, 2019 | News

It’s summertime, so that means backyard barbecues, vacations, and for defense acquisition policy nerds, reading the Senate and House Armed Services committees’ National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) bills.

Here are the six most promising themes and provisions from the FY20 NDAA bills.

DISCLAIMER: This post reflects my personal views and should not imply that my company or sponsors support or endorse the NDAA bills. This is merely to provide context for readers and personal commentary on related efforts to keep the acquisition community informed of pending legislation.

Streamlining Decision Making Processes

SASC Sec. 808. Pilot program to streamline decision-making processes for weapon systems.

Not later than February 1, 2020, each SAE shall recommend to the SECDEF at least one MDAP for a pilot program to include tailored measures to streamline the entire milestone decision process, with the results evaluated and reported for potential wider use. Each pilot program selected shall include the following elements:

Delineating the appropriate information needed to support milestone decisions, assuring program accountability and oversight, which should be based on the business case principles needed for well-informed milestone decisions, including user-defined requirements, reasonable acquisition and life-cycle cost estimates, and a knowledge-based acquisition plan for maturing technologies, stabilizing the program design, and ensuring key manufacturing processes are in control.

Developing an efficient process for providing this information to the milestone decision authority by minimizing any reviews between the program office and the different functional staff offices within each chain of command level; and establishing frequent, regular interaction between the program office and milestone decision makers, in lieu of documentation reviews, to help expedite the process.

This is great as it continues to chip away at the bureaucracy. It reinforces Congress’ support to SAEs to streamline the acquisition processes for greater speed, agility, and innovation. It reinforces key best practices and guiding principles we’ve captured in our Accelerate Program Execution strategies. Acquisition executives should identify the key information needed to support informed decision making. Program offices should focus on continuously improving their knowledge throughout the acquisition lifecycle, not simply to get documents approved for the next milestone. Accelerate strategies include Do Just Enough Documentation, Minimize Document Coordination, and Lean on Me.

Software Acquisition Pathways

SASC Sec. 852. Special pathways for rapid acquisition of software applications and upgrades.

Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, SECDEF shall establish guidance authorizing the use of special pathways for the rapid acquisition of software applications and upgrades that are intended to be fielded within one year. The guidance required shall provide for the use of proven technologies and solutions to continuously engineer and deliver capabilities in software. The objectives of using the acquisition authority under this section shall be to begin the engineering of new capabilities quickly, to demonstrate viability and effectiveness of those capabilities in operation, and to continue updating and delivering new capabilities iteratively afterwards. An acquisition using the authority under this section shall not be treated as an acquisition program for the purpose of 10 USC 2430 or DODD 5000.01 without the specific direction of USD(A&S) or a SAE. The guidance shall provide for the following two rapid acquisition pathways: Applications and Embedded Systems.


HASC Sec. 801. Establishment of acquisition pathways for software applications and software upgrades.

Not later than March 1, SECDEF shall establish guidance authorizing the use of acquisition pathways for the rapid acquisition of software applications and software upgrades that are intended to be fielded within one year. A contract awarded under this section— shall be in an amount equal to or less than $50,000,000; and may be entered into for a period of not more than one year. The guidance required shall provide for the use of the following two acquisition pathways: Applications and Upgrades.


HASC Sec. 802. Software development and software acquisition training and management programs.

SECDEF acting through the USD(A&S) and in consultation with the USD(R&E) and DOD CIO, shall establish software development and software acquisition training and management programs for all software acquisition professionals, software developers, and other appropriate individuals, as determined by SECDEF to earn a certification in software development and software acquisition. Develop and expand the use of specialized training programs for CIOs, SAEs, PEOs, and PMs to include training on and experience in continuous software development; and acquisition pathways available to acquire software.

It is great to see both bills include provisions to reinforce the recommendations and great work of the Defense Industrial Board’s (DIB) Software Acquisition Practices (SWAP) study. Software requires a separate pathway than the traditional hardware focused acquisition processes. I stressed this to a HASC subcommittee five years ago at IT Acquisition roundtable and my fellow panelists echoed my theme that software requires greater “speed and agility”. I would caution against constraints like “fielded within one year,” that while logical and noble, may actually constrain programs that deal with contract protests or funding delays/interruptions. DOD is making great progress in developing the new software acquisition pathway and guidance (disclosure: with our support) that embraces the recommendations of the DIB, DSB, and Section 809 Panel. As we’ve seen (and advised) DoD acquisition executives and programs adopt modern Agile and DevOps software development practices, the biggest barriers are education of “what is Agile” and “how do I apply it within DoD” along with the unique culture of modern software practices.

Middle Tier of Acquisition

HASC Sec. 821. Modifications to the middle tier of acquisition programs.

The SECDEF shall develop a process to provide the DOT&E, Director CAPE, and USD(R&E) access to all technical data, records, and information necessary to evaluate the technological maturity, operational effectiveness, and operational suitability of products and technologies proposed to be acquired under [Middle Tier of Acquisition]. Middle Tier of Acquisition programs must be below MDAP threshold, unless waived by SECDEF.

The DoD’s implementation of Middle Tier of Acquisition brought out the worst in the bureaucracy. While SAEs were granted decision authorities over most of their MDAPs, after decades of OSD control, they decided to use MTA as a loophole to drive MDAPs through a process in <5 years. That brought the staff bureaucrats to impose all the standard reporting and oversight for what was intended to be “rapid” prototypes and production of mature solutions. Starting below the MDAP threshold may keep the bureaucrats at bay, then if successful, could scale to MDAP-sized solutions.

Defense Business Systems

SASC Sec. 903. Return to DOD CIO of responsibility for business systems and related matters.

The Chief Data Officer of the DoD shall also be the official in the DoD with principal responsibility for providing for the availability of common, usable, Defense-wide data sets. The Chief Data Officer shall report directly to the DoD CIO.


HASC Sec. 861. Modifications to the defense acquisition system.

Not later than December 31, 2019, the DOD CIO shall submit to the congressional defense committees the IT enterprise architecture developed under 10 USC 2222(e)(4)(B), which shall include the plan for improving the IT and computing infrastructure described in such. Not later than March 31, 2020, the CMO and DOD CIO shall jointly submit to the congressional defense committees a plan and schedule for integrating the defense business enterprise architecture developed under 10 USC 2222 subsection (e), into the IT enterprise architecture, as required. DoD may not obligate or expend more than 75% of funds for DoD CIO or CMO until report is submitted.

DoD’s management and execution of defense business systems continues to be a challenge. In Feb 2017, USD(AT&L), DoD CIO, and then DCMO co-published DODI 5000.75 policy on DBS. It codified a new Business Capability Acquisition Cycle process that many today still struggle to follow. The DCMO for years was responsible for a DOD-wide Business Enterprise Architecture and DBS programs were mandated to align to with DCMO certifying compliance. Yet the BEA was ill-defined and ineffective, thus not achieving the key objectives of effective planning, maximizing interoperability and reuse, while minimizing costs and schedule. DoD’s lack of progress on BEA is why   DoD’s Business Systems Modernization is on GAO’s High Risk List. Returning key responsibilities to the CIO helps consolidate responsibility and align business and IT objectives and puts onus on CIO and CMO to be accountable to delivering an effective enterprise architecture.

Defense Industrial Base

SASC Sec. 831. Modernization of acquisition processes to ensure integrity of industrial base.

SECDEF shall streamline and digitize the existing DoD approach for identifying and mitigating risks to the defense industrial base across the acquisition process, creating a continuous model that uses digital tools, technologies, and approaches designed to ensure the accessibility of data to key decision-makers in the Department. USD(A&S), in coordination with the Defense Security Service (or successor entity) and other organizations as appropriate, shall develop an analytical framework for risk mitigation across the acquisition process.


HASC Sec. 892. Report and database on items manufactured in the United States for major defense acquisition programs.

It is the sense of Congress that any equipment or products purchased for MDAPs should be manufactured in the United States substantially all from articles, materials, or supplies mined, produced, or manufactured in the United States, and that any such equipment or products purchased by any entity of the DoD should be American-made, provided that American-made equipment and products are of a quality similar to that of competitive offers and are available in a timely manner to meet mission requirements.

As we seek to digitally transform the Defense Acquisition Enterprise, this one is near-and-dear to our hearts. DoD needs a robust industrial base across hundreds of sectors. As MITRE’s Deliver Uncompromised report highlights there are critical risks across the industrial base to include adversaries stealing designs of critical systems to controlling and corrupting key elements of the supply chain. DoD must also develop contract strategies at portfolio and enterprise levels to minimize winner-take-all contracts that create a monopoly for key defense sectors and instead enable vibrant competition from many vendors from the primes down to all tiers of the supply chain. Digital solutions help DoD maintain an enterprise view.

Defense Acquisition Workforce 

HASC Sec. 841. Defense acquisition workforce certification and education requirements.

SECDEF shall implement a certification program to provide for a professional certification requirement for all members of the acquisition workforce. The certification requirement for any career field of the acquisition workforce shall be based on nationally or internationally recognized standards developed by a third-party entity.

This provision implements a key Section 809 Panel recommendation that the Defense Acquisition Workforce requires an overhaul in its training and certification programs. USD(A&S) leadership have often publicly stated they want to transform DAU. DoD has over 150,000 acquisition professionals that require a modern workforce to effectively spend over $300 billion annually to arm our warfighters with the most effective and lethal capabilities.

What’s Missing

While the DoD is still playing catch-up on the many acquisition reforms in the FY16-19 NDAAs, it would have been nice to see more of the bold reforms from the Section 809 Panel make its way into the FY20 NDAA. Particularly areas like Portfolio Management and requirements reforms. Hopefully they’re in the queue for FY21. 



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Disclaimer:  The opinions expressed here are those of the authors only and do not represent the positions of the MITRE Corporation or its sponsors.


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