To respond to evolving threats, DOD has to develop and deliver software-based weapon and IT systems quickly. DOD has started modernizing its software technologies, policies, and workforce to achieve this.
A few years ago, DOD's advisory committees on science and innovation recommended ways to improve its software development and acquisitions. DOD has at least partially implemented all of those recommendations. For example, DOD improved training, but hasn't fully established a workforce of software developers and acquisition professionals—a key piece of its modernization strategy.
Our recommendations are to help DOD meet its modernization goals.
What GAO Found
The Department of Defense's (DOD) response to evolving threats is increasingly determined by its ability to rapidly develop and deploy systems that heavily rely on software, such as weapons or information technology (IT) systems. DOD has taken many steps in the past few years to modernize its approach to developing and acquiring software. DOD's efforts at least partially implement all 17 Defense Science Board (DSB) and Defense Innovation Board (DIB) recommendations, some of which include multiple recommended actions. For example, DOD substantially implemented two DIB recommendations by streamlining software acquisition processes and piloting a new funding approach to deliver software faster.
DOD Has at Least Partially Implemented All of the DIB and DSB Recommendations
However, for 13 of the 17 recommendations, DOD has yet to take certain actions outlined in the recommendations. For example, while DOD enhanced training for its software workforce, it has yet to establish a cadre of software developers. DOD officials stated that they have addressed the intent of the recommendations and do not plan to fully implement all recommended actions, in part, because certain actions may be impractical or outdated.
DOD has outlined transformational plans to continue software modernization. According to DOD, its plans will require a cohesive department-wide effort that will take time to fully implement. However, DOD has yet to take certain steps recommended by GAO's past work to position itself to effectively implement its planned reforms. For example, DOD has yet to finalize implementation plans for these efforts or conduct strategic planning for its software workforce to ensure it has the needed skillsets to implement reforms. Taking such steps would better position DOD to implement its planned reforms, which are aimed at helping achieve its goal of more rapidly delivering software to its users.
Why GAO Did This Study
DOD has made efforts to modernize its approaches to developing and acquiring software for its software-intensive systems—such as weapon and IT systems. However, it faces challenges executing approaches to rapidly deliver software. The DSB and DIB published reports in 2018 and 2019, respectively, which made recommendations to improve DOD's software practices.
Congress included a provision in statute for GAO to examine DOD's implementation of DSB and DIB recommendations. This report assesses (1) the extent to which DOD addressed DSB and DIB recommendations; and (2) the extent to which DOD is positioned to implement its future software modernization plans.
GAO reviewed DOD documents related to ongoing and future software reform initiatives and interviewed relevant officials. GAO then compared this information to DIB and DSB recommendations and key practices from past GAO work.
GAO is making seven recommendations, including that DOD finalize implementation plans for future software modernization efforts and develop a software workforce plan. DOD concurred with four recommendations and partially concurred with three recommendations. GAO continues to believe that all of its recommendations are warranted.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Defense||The Secretary of Defense should ensure that, as the Software Modernization SSG and other relevant entities develop performance measures for future software modernization efforts, these measures incorporate GAO's key attributes of successful performance measures, to the extent appropriate, to track progress towards achieving agency goals. (Recommendation 1)|
|Department of Defense||The Secretary of Defense should direct the USD(A&S), USD(R&E), and DOD CIO to identify the resources needed, such as staffing and funding, to lead DOD's software acquisition and development reform efforts, and to address any related deficiencies these officials identify. (Recommendation 2)|
|Department of Defense||The Secretary of Defense should fully identify roles and responsibilities for leaders throughout the department for carrying out reforms included in key software strategies. (Recommendation 3)|
|Department of Defense||The Secretary of Defense should ensure the USD(A&S), USD(R&E), and DOD CIO finalize an implementation plan that includes key milestones and deliverables to track progress on implementing the Software Modernization Strategy. (Recommendation 4)|
|Department of Defense||The Secretary of Defense should ensure the USD(R&E) finalizes an implementation plan that includes key milestones and deliverables to track progress on implementing the Software Science and Technology Strategy. (Recommendation 5)|
|Department of Defense||The Secretary of Defense should direct the USD(A&S), USD(R&E), and DOD CIO to establish processes to collect the data necessary to effectively measure progress against outcome-oriented goals related to software modernization efforts. (Recommendation 6)|
|Department of Defense||The Secretary of Defense should ensure that, once the software workforce is identified, the USD(A&S), the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, and other relevant entities, use that information to develop a department-wide strategic workforce plan that identifies strategies tailored to address gaps in the critical skills and competencies needed to achieve software modernization goals. (Recommendation 7)|