In an ideal world, the Department of Defense (DoD) and Congress would collaborate seamlessly in real time to ensure the DoD budget and planning process would meet the immediate needs, technical capabilities, and geopolitical demands of the U.S. military. Decisions and discussions would be supported by data that served as a reliable source of truth. Questions would be nuanced and decisions would be implemented swiftly. With few structural changes since its creation in the 1960’s, however, the current Congressional budgeting process struggles to meet the needs of the DoD in the 21st century.

To help resolve this disparity, section 1004 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2022 created a Commission to assess the Department of Defense Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Execution (PPBE) process, and make recommendations for future improvements. In August 2023, the PPBE Reform Commission released an interim report containing a robust list of early recommendations that the DoD agreed to adopt. The Commission’s final report, Defense Resourcing for the Future, was published on March 6th, 2024.

The PPBE Reform Commission found that the DoD and Congress share common goals to steward taxpayer dollars and keep the nation safe, but poor communication and slow response times have strained their relationship. These fragmented lines of communication are exacerbated by a suite of obsolete, unreliable, and hard to use software. DoD has hundreds of systems that track budget-related data across a sprawling, hierarchical bureaucracy. Despite recent progress on data integration, these systems remain riddled with inaccuracies.

Meanwhile, Congressional communication is divided along House, Senate, committee, party, and individual lines. Congressional staff lack the authority or resources to maintain complex technical systems and struggle with staff turnover, leaving the Hill mired in siloed communication patterns with little cohesion. Trust has eroded between DoD and Congress in part due to the difficulties of sharing information internally, with one another, and uncertainty over the impact of greater transparency.

The PPBE process is the nexus between these two very different and equally complicated decision-making bodies. The combination highlights the worst qualities of each. Currently, information exchange between the DoD and Congress is manual and ad hoc, consisting of email, PDFs, printed materials, spreadsheets, Word documents, phone calls, and in-person meetings. Year-to-year, very little information is recorded, maintained, or used to improve future PPBE iterations. DoD has not granted Congressional staff access to DoD networks, severely limiting options for the transfer of sensitive or controlled data. Congress reserves learnings to individual offices or committees, or keeps data behind partisan walls. Flawed technologies only add to the mistrust and confusion.

Recognizing this, the PPBE Reform Commission recommended the 1and help build trust during PPBE discussions. In late 2023 and early 2024 Service Design Collective (SDC) worked closely with Commission staff to add supporting details and concrete next steps to the enclave recommendation. SDC reviewed the findings of the PPBE Reform Commission and other supporting materials, conducted qualitative interviews with 15 people and observed 8 hours of live and recorded product demonstrations. All participants held current or former roles in Congress, for the DoD, or at Defense-focused think tanks. Many served more than one of these roles.

The following report outlines our findings, makes practical recommendations, and suggests next steps for implementing the enclaves. Our definition of an enclave includes the digital infrastructure, software, data, business processes, service offerings, and the necessary expertise to facilitate timely and accurate knowledge and data exchange between Congress and DoD. The enclave involves technological layers, including data sources and governance, a user interface (UI), credentialing, access, and authentication processes as well as human behaviors that happen outside of technology systems.

DoD has already taken some initial steps toward sharing data with Congress by leveraging existing infrastructure and programs. Based on SDC’s observations of current practices, fundamental changes are necessary before meaningful steps can be taken toward building the enclave.

Our findings include:

  • A significant and widespread lack of Human-centered Design
  • Poorly designed, inaccessible, and inaccurate technologies
  • A lack of organization and unclear ownership around enclave development
  • Our recommendations include:
  • Assign and empower a product leader in the Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office (CDAO) from the DoD whose primary responsibility is delivering the enclave
  • Create a multidisciplinary integrated product delivery team staffed by DoD employees to own and build the enclave
  • Establish stable multi-year funding for the development of the enclaves
  • Leverage existing contracts for commercial software whenever possible, rather than pursue custom development
  • Shift to a technical infrastructure that can responsibly manage sensitive DoD data on an unclassified network
  • Use an authentication service and distribute Common Access or Personal Identity Verification Cards (CACs or PIVs) for credentialing
  • Establish modern access controls to ensure data is protected and managed throughout the enclave
  • Improve the data management and development practices of existing DoD data platforms
  • Implement a single user interface to facilitate Congressional access to data
  • Design and build the enclave with direct input from Congressional staffers, DoD employees, and other intended users

These recommendations are designed as a starting point for the next iteration of the enclave. They should not be understood as a completed product roadmap or delivery plan. The goal of this report is to describe the problem space and outline options for first steps. Built correctly, feedback from users will guide product decisions and will lead to a product that not only works, but is accessible, understandable, and useful.

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This site was last updated on 12 MAR 2024.