An Update on Technology Innovation Provisions in the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act

Published: October 07, 2015

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This update to an April 2015 post titled “Research and Development in Focus in the FY 2016 NDAA” outlines technology innovation provisions included in the reconciled National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2016.

Every year Congress passes a new National Defense Authorization Act that helps set the course of policy and technology development for the Department of Defense. The provisions in each year’s NDAA have lasting effects well beyond the year in which they were set out, so it is a good idea for industry to keep track of the priorities that Congress has ensconced in law. This year’s NDAA, although facing a veto threat from the White House, contains a number of provisions on technology innovation that are worth knowing. At the end of September 2015, the House released its Conference Report apprising us of how the reconciliation process between the House and Senate versions is going. The agreement contains a handful of provisions that deal with technology innovation.

Long Range Technology Investments

Section 212 of the Senate version of the NDAA contained a provision not included in the House bill that concerned the DoD’s Technology Offset Program. The TOP, as it is known, is intended to build and maintain the technological superiority of the United States. Among the listed “offset technologies” are directed energy, low-cost high-speed munitions, autonomous systems, undersea warfare, cyber technology, and intelligence data analytics. The Senate provision authorized $400 million for the TOP in FY 2016, $200 million which was supposed to be dedicated to directed energy. The good news for industry is that the House Conference Report adopted the Senate provision, with the caveat that the DoD be given flexibility in how the directed energy funding is used. This means that the remaining $200 million is for development work related to low-cost high-speed munitions, autonomous systems, undersea warfare, cyber technology, and intelligence data analytics.

Reauthorization of the Defense Research and Development Rapid Innovation Fund (RIF) Program

Both the House and Senate NDAA versions reauthorized the RIF, but in the reconciled bill the reauthorization extends to 2023, suggesting that contract dollars will continue to be directed into R&D pertaining to ISR, power and energy, software-defined systems, wireless technologies, and unmanned vehicle platforms. RIF dollars are typically spent through Broad Agency Announcements and in FY 2015 alone the Defense Agencies and Military Departments issued requests for industry support for 229 requirements.

Science and Technology Activities to Support Business Systems Information Technology Acquisition Programs

Section 215 of the Senate NDAA mandated that the DoD use industry partners, federally funded research and development centers, and government laboratories to reduce costs associated with major IT system acquisitions. The House decided to accept this provision, but it has directed the DoD to conduct a gap analysis that identifies relevant activities in the current science and technology program that are not being effectively pursued. Among the gaps at DoD that the House has identified are a “lack of support for business process re-engineering, for lowering costs of customization of commercial software, for lowering maintenance costs, for open architectures, for engagement with management schools and small businesses, and for the conversion of legacy software to modern systems.” The House supports the spirit of the Senate provision, therefore, but it is seeking to make the utilization of FFRDC and Defense lab capabilities more effective, particularly when it comes to the use of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies and open architectures.

Summing up, the reconciled NDAA for FY 2016 will include all of the technology innovation provisions that the Senate had added to its version of the legislation, a development which bodes well for COTS vendors, vendors working in the R&D space, and those offering Defense customers “game-changing” technologies.