Funding for DOD's software pilots holds strong in 2022

Getty Images

Future expansion could hinge on analysis that the strategy is working.

Appropriators opted not to add projects to the Defense Department's software pilot program in fiscal 2022, but did slightly increase funding. 

Lawmakers only allotted funding for eight programs to experiment with the concept of "colorless money" in the recently passed omnibus appropriations bill, instead of the 12 listed in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act.

The DOD's software and digital technology pilot program, often referred to as budget activity eight program, aims to allow for more flexibility when buying software for certain digitally-heavy programs by using research dollars instead of other types of funding. 

Appropriators greenlit funding for the Navy's Risk Management Information program ($13.7 million) and Maritime Tactical Command And Control ($14.85 million), and the Army's Defensive Cyber Software Prototype Development ($108.88 million), and the Air and Space Force's Joint Space Operations Center (JSPOC) Mission System ($154.5 million), according to explanatory documents. DOD-wide pilots include the National Background Investigation Services ($123.57 million), Acquisition Visibility ($18.3 million), Global Command and Control System ($32.77 million), and Algorithmic Warfare Cross Functional Teams ($247.45 million).

Funding totaled about $714 million for fiscal 2022, a slight increase from last year when appropriators allotted $664 million for eight programs. 

The 2022 defense policy bill authorized funding for the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, Strategic Mission Planning and Execution System, the Air and Space Operation Center, Defense Enterprise Accounting and Management System, Navy Next Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN) – a nearly billion-dollar program. But those programs were funded through other channels, such as operations and maintenance.

It's unclear whether these programs or others will be reconsidered for the pilot in the fiscal 2023. 

In explanatory statements, appropriators called on the defense secretary to execute the software pilot programs through fiscal year 2022, "while performing detailed analysis of the Department's accounting and financial management process for such pilot programs compared to traditional software and digital technology programs." 

That analysis would need to include quarterly reports to the congressional defense committees with quantitative and qualitative metrics for the programs, plus an assessment of similar programs funded through the traditional appropriations process. 

An AI ecosystem for the intel community

The intelligence community could soon have a whole digital ecosystem dedicated to artificial intelligence efforts and tools. But Congress wants a plan first. 

The 2022 omnibus spending bill that passed Congress late last week calls for the director of national intelligence to develop a plan for developing, testing, and fielding the latest AI offerings that can be used from the boardroom to the battlefield. 

The largely unclassified plan, per the bill's text, would include policies for a "hoteling model to allow trusted small- and medium-sized artificial intelligence companies access to classified facilities on a flexible basis" and guidance for common interfaces, authentication, applications, platforms, software, hardware, and data infrastructure.

The DNI and other intelligence heads would also have to deconflict redundant AI capabilities (either bought or built) while embracing open architecture, interoperability. The plan must also include a governance structure to enforce adoption and appropriate standards for using AI and requisite data as well as ethical and civil liberties considerations "to ensure that use of artificial intelligence and associated data by the federal government related to United States persons comport with rights relating to freedom of expression, equal protection, privacy and due process."

The plan, which may include a classified annex, would be due in 2024 or a year after the law is enacted.