Lawmakers want to know how much bad software costs DOD

Maria J. Smith

House lawmakers are looking for more oversight of the Defense Department’s cyber, network and information technology efforts through a series of reviews that range from evaluating underperforming software to auditing the military’s Joint All Domain Command and Control program, according to proposed language for the upcoming 2023 National Defense Authorization Act. 

The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems released its mark for the upcoming defense policy bill, which calls for an independent assessment of military software and IT to determine how much money the department is losing—including in productivity—due to poorly performing software and IT systems. 

“Because the department and the military services often have what we consider underperforming, poorly performing software and IT, these service members are wasting an enormous amount of their time which is not spent training. It’s not spent thinking strategically. It’s not spent doing the things that we need them to do as a military because they’re literally staring, waiting at their computer for their computer load, for their email to load, for one system to talk to another,” a committee aide said. 

“And then we thought if we could quantify that, as many commercial companies do in terms of the cost imposed in terms of lost time, that we could have a number that we could take and illustrate that investing in things like software and IT actually will save the department money in terms of lost working hours.”

The bill language also calls for a comptroller review of the Defense Department’s attempt to link its command and control systems across the military services. 

JADC2 is a “complex undertaking with a lot of service-specific efforts supporting the joint requirements, and this is ensuring that those are each on an appropriate timeline and budget,” committee staff told reporters on June 7. 

The legislation also proposes an independent review of the Pentagon’s CIO office, which has domain over cybersecurity and cyber capabilities, electromagnetic spectrum, position navigation and timing, IT architecture, networking and information assurance. The goal, if the provision is adopted, is to ensure the office has an adequate workforce to meet its missions.

Additionally, the bill language calls on DOD to refine definitions for information operations and related terminology, such as information environment and “operations in the information environment” as meanings differ between military services.

The HASC subcommittee on military personnel’s mark also plans to take up issues pertaining to building out DOD’s cyber personnel, primarily through the Cyber Mission Force. 

A committee aide said the issue was “an area of concern,” and there will be bill language to make sure “DOD and the services are proactively looking at how the Cyber Mission Force is manned, but also, how we recruit and retain them, how we incentivize to make sure that we have the best and brightest.” 

Next steps on the Hill 

The HASC is gearing up for its subcommittee markups of the 2023 defense policy bill starting Wednesday, and a full committee markup scheduled for June 22. The Senate is slated to start its own markup process next week. 

The House cyber subcommittee mark, which still has to be agreed upon and advanced to the full committee, marks the beginning of a months-long lawmaking process where provisions can make it into the final bill in other ways, such as via floor amendments, when each chamber votes on their bills and agree to the same changes in conference. And that’s where some major changes could be made. 

Mark Montgomery, the former executive director of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, told FCW that many top cyber priorities he’s pushing for are being targeted for addition to NDAA as floor amendments. That’s especially true for the FISMA modifications, which would update policy related to information systems across the federal enterprise—not just DOD. 

“That’s really hard in an NDAA to take a bill that affects every federal department and agency,” he said. “FISMA reform, if they get it done, could easily be the most significant thing we do in cybersecurity for this year’s legislation outside of CHIPS and the Endless Frontier Act, which are being done in this Bipartisan Innovation Act.”

Montgomery, who is now the senior director at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, also expects the commission’s recommendation for a Joint Collaborative Environment, an infrastructure that would allow the government to rapidly exchange cyber threat information with companies, to make it into the final defense bill. 

“That kind of system has to be authorized so you can appropriate against it,” he said. “If it’s going to be what Jen [Easterly, the director of CISA] wants it to be, she’s going to need this JCE.”

The JCE would be led by the Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative, which sits inside of the Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

Emily Harding, the deputy director and senior fellow with the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told FCW that she wants to see Congress take a stance on open source intelligence with funding that would support use of open source information, AI capabilities and storage capabilities associated with the cloud. 

But part of that would also mean wading through a privacy debate around “what is ethically acceptable for the national security establishment to collect and hold from publicly available information,” Harding said. 

“I personally think that if it’s publicly available, it’s publicly available,” she said. “So I think that this is something where Congress is really going to have to lead on coming up with some rules and some norms about what’s acceptable for the government to collect and hold and … what kind of obfuscation of data they would need to protect American citizens’ privacy.” 

Harding said the topic was certainly “thorny” but necessary to take advantage of open source.

“If we’re going to take advantage of an open source revolution, we have to do it. And I think that the Ukraine conflict has been the first open source conflict, and we really need to grab the opportunity to learn some lessons about what you can gain from open source intelligence.”

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