Biden urged by tech firms to embrace commercial software

By: Joe Gould

WASHINGTON ― Several dozen tech companies and groups are urging U.S. President Joe Biden to ensure that federal agencies buy more commercial software over custom-built versions, in line with the law.

In a letter Wednesday, they argued government software development efforts fail because, too often, government leaders “continue to favor custom-built, more expensive solutions, even when there are proven, widely available commercial solutions” and don’t apply existing commercial preference regulations to software and technology procurement.

Following the Colonial Pipeline and SolarWinds cyber intrusions, Biden issued an executive order aimed, in part, at tightening standards for commercial software used by the federal government and accelerate the government’s adoption of cloud computing. The order calls for the National Institute of Standards and Technology to issue new guidance to shore up vulnerabilities in the government’s commercial software supply chain.

The letter from the tech firms requests the White House budget office provide guidance that ensures agencies follow commercial-preference regulations, which fall under the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act. It encourages Biden to require any software or technology acquisition to include the opportunity for the private sector to participate in live technology demonstrations alongside any custom-built options.

The Office of Management and Budget did not respond to a request for comment.

The 47 signatories include Palantir, Salesforce, Splunk, Govini, Shield AI, the Silicon Valley Defense Group, the Alliance for Digital Innovation and the Alliance for Commercial Technology in Government.

“For years, we’ve heard a lot of rhetoric about the urgency of preparing for great power competition. If it is really urgent, and I think it clearly is, the government has to act like it,” said Mac Thornberry, former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and member of the Silicon Valley Defense Group board of advisers. “That means acquiring systems now that are tested and proven and can be readily adopted, rather than waiting ― sometimes for years ― to build systems from scratch that may never work and are likely to be outdated if they do.”

Defense Department acquisition officials must, according to an internal 2017 guidelines, minimize the need for customization of commercial information technology products as a way to cut development and delivery times, and lower life-cycle costs. A separate review last year of 15 major DoD IT programs found that four used entirely custom software and 10 used commercial software with DOD-specific customization.