House panel passes 2022 NDAA with eye on cyber workforce

The House Armed Services Committee passed its version of the 2022 defense policy bill, 57-2.

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The House Armed Services Committee passed its version of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, 57-2, with a keen eye on improving the cyber workforce, while raising the topline spending limits by about $24 billion.

HASC Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) opened the 16-hour markup session, characterized this year's bill as transformative in its support of emerging technologies that could help the Defense Department better develop platforms, protect networks, and deter adversaries "more cost effectively."

"New innovative technologies are great but you can also mess up how you use them. So we want to learn from that, put in place a military that can deal with the challenges we face," Smith said.

"Because as we all know and as we've all learned, being able to protect your systems -- information warfare, cyber attacks -- all of that is a lot more threatening than it used to be."

The bill now moves to the House floor for a vote.

Inclusivity in the draft, budget increase transparency

After voting with a significant majority to raise defense spending by $24 billion, the HASC also adopted a provision that directs the defense secretary to submit a publicly available report on the programs Congress authorized or appropriated above the 2022 budget request amounts, specifically above $20 million.

According to Rep. Elissa Slotkin's (D-Mich.) amendment, DOD would have to report any program or activity that it attempted to divest but Congress restored, and also include assessments on whether those listed programs and activities support the National Defense Strategy from 2018 and the Biden administration's Interim National Strategic Guidance.

The panel also voted 35-24 to adopt an amendment presented by Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) that would require all U.S. persons sign up for the Military Selective Service System regardless of "race, color, sex, or gender.

Eyes on software acquisition

The Defense Department may be required to stand up a band of software acquisition experts by January 2022, according to a provision in the House draft of the NDAA.

A provision by Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) would require DOD's acquisition chief to stand up a "cadre of personnel who are experts in development and acquisition of software" to ensure a consistent and strategic approach. The group would also provide "assistance, and resources to the acquisition workforce" to support the implementation of the Adaptive Acquisition Framework adopted last year.

In that same vein, Langevin offered report language to require the defense secretary to report on whether a new contracting mechanism would help speed up software delivery to the warfighter by October 1, 2022 -- two years after the establishment of the complementary software acquisition pathway. If the answer is yes, DOD would have to make a plan to develop an agile contracting mechanism for rapid software acquisition.

Centering the cyber workforce

Rep. James Langevin (D-R.I.), who chairs the Subcommittee on Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems, championed several amendments, including one that prohibits DOD's CIO from being "dual hatted" as the principal cyber advisor.

But on the workforce side, one Langevin amendment would improve senior leaders' working knowledge of technologies. The provision would have the defense secretary "establish a short course on emerging technologies" and their application to military and business scenarios for senior executive-level civilian leaders. The class would be taught on a two-year cycle and require at least 20% of enrollees pass the certification in the first year. That requirement would go up 10% each year until reaching an 80% threshold.

The bill also includes a requirement for the defense secretary to report on the feasibility of including training or other duties necessary for cybersecurity operations or missions to protect critical infrastructure by National Guard members.

There's also a push to centralize the Defense Department's cyber education, training and recruitment under a senior DOD official. Rep. Elissa Slotkin's (D-Mich.) amendment seeks to conduct a study to evaluate whether creating a "single clearinghouse or point of contact responsible for cyber recruitment and retention" across the department would be viable.

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), who chairs the HASC's Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations, led an amendment that mandates DOD to create a "national network for microelectronics research and development," tweaking language from the 2021 NDAA. The bill also includes a reporting requirement due by March 31 on DOD's current efforts on the matter.