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Research Question

  1. What are the problems and challenges associated with sharing unclassified information within the Department of Defense?

Acquisition data underpin the management and oversight of the U.S. defense acquisition portfolio. However, balancing security and transparency has been an ongoing challenge. Some acquisition professionals are not getting the data they need to perform their assigned duties or are not getting the data and information in an efficient manner. To help guide the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) in addressing these problems, the RAND Corporation identified access problems at the OSD level — including those organizations that require access to data and information to support OSD, such as analytic support federally funded research and development centers and direct support contractors — and evaluated the role of policy in determining access.

Issues with Access to Acquisition Data and Information in the Department of Defense finds that the process for gaining access to data is inefficient and may not provide access to the best data to support analysis, and that OSD analytic groups and support contractors face particular challenges in gaining access to data. Given the inherent complexity in securing data and sharing data, any solutions to problems associated with data sharing must be well thought out to avoid the multitude of unintended consequences that could arise.

Key Findings

The Process for Gaining Access to Data Is Inefficient and May Not Provide Access to the Best Data to Support Analysis

  • Government personnel and those supporting the government do not always get their first choice of data.
  • Alternative sources often have data of lower quality, that are older and thus less accurate, or that are subject to a number of caveats.

OSD Analytic Groups and Support Contractors Face Particular Challenges in Gaining Access to Data

  • OSD analytic groups often do not have access to the originators of the data, which precludes them from going to the primary source. They may also have poor visibility of all viable data sources.
  • Direct support contractors have problems similar to OSD analysts, but these problems can be compounded by laws, regulations, and policy that restrict access to certain types of information. Support contractors require special permissions to view nontechnical proprietary data.

Access Problems Occur for Several Reasons

  • Data access policy is highly decentralized, not well known, and subject to a wide range of interpretation.
  • The markings for unclassified information play a significant role in access. The owner or creator of a document determines what protections or markings are required. However, marking criteria are not always clear or consistently applied.
  • Institutional and cultural barriers inhibit sharing.


Options for solving the proprietary data-access problem:

  • The Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (USD[AT&L]) could seek additional billets and insource any functions that require access to proprietary data; this would require Office of Professional Management and congressional support.
  • USD[AT&L] could reallocate billets to functions that currently require access to proprietary information; this would require cross-organizational prioritization — a difficult process that might be insufficient.
  • General access could be established for all direct support contractors; this would require legislative or contractual changes.
  • Additional contractual language could be placed on all DoD acquisition contracts, granting support contractors restricted access to their data. Contractors who receive the data would have to demonstrate company firewalls, training, personal agreements, and need to know akin to those for classified information.
  • The government could seek an alternative ruling on the nondisclosure requirements, whereby blanket nondisclosure agreements could be signed between the government and a direct support organization, or a company and a direct support organization to cover multiple tasks.

Options to address the confusion regarding policy:

  • The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (OUSD[AT&L]) could create and maintain a central, authoritative online resource that references all relevant guidance on information management, handling, access, and release for acquisition data.
  • OUSD(AT&L) could consider providing additional training for its staff on the identification and protection of data.
  • In areas where conflicting interpretations of guidance are particularly problematic (e.g., For Official Use Only and proprietary information), additional guidance on how to identify this type of information upfront would be useful.
  • Directives and incentives could be established so that markings that appear to be incorrect are challenged.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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