Paul D. Nielsen, SEI Director and CEO, Testifies Before U.S. House of Representatives

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Paul D. Nielsen, SEI Director and CEO, Testifies Before U.S. House of Representatives

Pittsburgh, PA, July 21, 2009—SEI Director and CEO Paul D. Nielsen testified before the United States House of Representatives Defense Acquisition Reform Panel of the Committee on Armed Services on July 9, 2009, on the challenges and opportunities the Armed Services face in defense acquisition.

“Today our military men and women train, operate, and fight in a cyber environment that is based upon global IT architectures, applications, and services. Gone are the days of IT being a support infrastructure to a few basic missions,” said Nielsen. “Today and in the future, IT architectures and services have created and enabled the cyber environment within which a majority of key Department of Defense missions and functions are conducted.”

The SEI’s work is centered on the software component of the DoD’s systems, the core of their functions and capabilities—often totaling one third or more of the overall cost of an acquisition program. In fact, one of the largest challenges the SEI sees facing the DoD is the effective management of the software foundation upon which all military platforms, capabilities, and systems of systems are built and run. In his testimony, Nielsen highlighted the 10 key reasons software acquisitions fail and how the government can better manage large software efforts.

“For operational success these capabilities must all function in real-time or near-real-time and are often networked,” Nielsen told the committee. “Our military can only operate at its peak capability with reliable, high quality, and secure information technology. Software is the heart of our command and control capabilities and services. It’s the glue that connects our systems and integrates our systems.”

Nielsen testified that the DoD IT architecture today is often the least understood and most neglected component, and that the percentage of weapon system functionality that is dependent upon software has skyrocketed over the past 40 years to nearly 80% and will only continue to grow. And unlike other engineering disciplines, there are no physical constraints for software engineering opening up a vast design space that can only be managed through strong architectural principles, disciplined processes, and the best efforts of talented professionals.

“People don’t buy code—they acquire systems that satisfy requirements. And it’s intangible—you can’t touch it or kick the tires. Nevertheless, in most defense systems, software is critical to the very success of the program. The systems just don’t work without software,” said Nielsen.

He went on to say that without solid software engineering, software issues often don’t become evident until late in an acquisition, such as during integration and test, which results in significant program slips and cost overruns. With software and hardware technologies continuing to evolve rapidly, very few program managers have a deep understanding of software technology. Additionally, mounting expectations for software systems to be connected, configurable, and interoperable add to the challenges of ensuring their security.

“The current challenges we face in software engineering and integration are daunting,” continued Nielsen. “We face the development of extremely large systems with several million lines of software code that often utilize insecure and unassured software engineering.” Complications are further augmented when multi-contractor teams use different software processes, dispersed engineering, and separated development and operational locations to complete developments.

Nielsen told the committee that the SEI advocates a solid foundation for IT software acquisition that includes not only the required technical expertise, management oversight, and quality assurance processes, but also the adequate budget, schedule, and staff needed to carry them out. And while the SEI has presented a preliminary framework of activities focused on building security into the government’s major software-reliant acquisition systems and architectures, it is essential for the DoD to continue to invest in research in software engineering and to work to establish and incentivize the adoption of the most effective processes and practices available.

“While there are no silver bullets, acquisition is a ‘team sport,’” said Nielsen. “And the development of complex systems of systems demands an acquisition team with a capable acquisition managers teamed with capable development managers. We all have a responsibility to the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen to support them with affordable, secure, operable systems that meet the nation’s needs.”

Nielsen’s full testimony can be downloaded at http://armedservices.house.gov/hearing_information.shtml.

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