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2021 Year in Review

Transitioning the DoD’s Software Acquisition Pathway to Programs

Since the October 2020 issuance of Department of Defense Instruction 5000.87 (DoDI 5000.87), the DoD’s first software-specific acquisition pathway, the SEI has been working with early adopters of the policy to test its efficacy and deliver capabilities to warfighters.

The purpose of DoDI 5000.87 is to enable agile, iterative software delivery to provide capabilities to the warfighter more rapidly. The new policy reflects the DoD’s growing recognition that software acquisition for applications and embedded systems needs to be done differently to respond to operational needs.

The software acquisition pathway departs from decades of hardware-based acquisition regulations. The policy aims to help the DoD acquire software by applying modern software practices, including Agile and DevSecOps, to deliver software capabilities with a speed that matches the department’s dynamic mission needs, in accordance with Section 800 of the FY20 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The software acquisition pathway focuses on human-centered design; active, committed user engagement and feedback; the use of enterprise services and platforms; rapid and iterative deliveries; and greater use of automated tools. The SEI team, led by Forrest Shull, lent their expertise in evidence-based research to the development, testing, and updating of the policy as well as to the foundational Defense Innovation Board study, Software is Never Done.

We work collaboratively with DoD programs across all services and other defense organizations to develop the data and evidence that helps our Acquisition Enablers customer refine acquisition oversight and policy.

Forrest Shull
Defense Software Acquisition Policy Research Lead, SEI Software Solutions Division
Photo of Forrest Shull.

The number of programs adopting the software acquisition pathway continues to climb. These programs and the policy owners need data- and experience-based support adapting the existing policy for a given program’s unique environment, as well as determining what changes to policy and guidance would better support the larger DoD enterprise.

The Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition Enablers (AE) manages software acquisition policy. The SEI supports AE by designing and executing pilot programs to provide empirical information to programs and policy makers on software acquisition. The data helps AE, the programs, and other acquisition stakeholders understand how DoD programs can deliver software-enabled capabilities faster, whether modern software practice is better supported when programs have a single software funding appropriation, and how to improve the use of consumption-based pricing, such as for cloud services. The data is also featured in reports to Congress on legal stipulations related to DoD software modernization.

“The SEI is strategically positioned to help programs transition to using the new policy and to help the department evolve it through the experience of programs,” says Shull, the SEI’s lead for defense software acquisition policy research. “We work collaboratively with DoD programs across all services and other defense organizations to develop the data and evidence that helps our Acquisition Enablers customer refine acquisition oversight and policy.” As a result of this work, the DoD has reported faster delivery of software-enabled capabilities to the warfighter.

The SEI’s work also contributes to technical and acquisition guidance being developed by AE to support implementing the policy broadly across DoD weapons programs. The SEI is leveraging its extensive research in Agile and Lean techniques, DevSecOps, and technical debt in a variety of DoD contexts.