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All Pentagon contracts should secure data rights, says advisory board

The Defense Innovation Board would like Congress to "enshrine DOD data access and rights in all vendor agreements.”

Congress should require all Pentagon contracts to secure data rights from the vendor, the Defense Innovation Board says. 

“The current state of data access within DOD vendor agreements is fragmented and inconsistent,” the advisory board wrote in its most recent report, which includes suggested legislative text for the FY2025 National Defense Authorization Act that would "enshrine DOD data access and rights in all vendor agreements.”

An independent oversight committee that provides technology recommendations to the defense secretary and other senior Pentagon officials, the board was tasked in October 2023 by David Honey, defense undersecretary for research and engineering, to help the department improve its use of data. The study was cleared for public release on January 23. 

The report called the Pentagon’s efforts to quickly access and use needed data across the entire department “outdated,” noting that inadequate data access practices are “inhibiting effective interoperability and utilization of data across various platforms” needed to enable the DOD’s Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control initiative. Known as CJADC2, the departmentwide effort seeks to streamline information-sharing across disparate military domains into one cohesive network.

The board said the NDAA proposal — which it called an “initial action” to address the department’s broader data access issues — would ensure that all future DOD vendor agreements “incorporate clear language on data rights and interoperability that manages data procured or generated under defense industrial contracts, and that facilitates, safeguards and future-proofs DOD’s access to this data.”

The DIB report also recommended that the proposed requirement “direct the formation of a federated defense industrial data catalog for defense companies and the department, a trusted community of interest for accessing this federated data catalog and an oversight body for this new data marketplace.”

During the DIB’s quarterly public meeting on Jan. 26, Ryan Swann — a board member and the chief data analytics officer at Vanguard — said the recommended NDAA proposal would help the Pentagon “prioritize data rights and data interoperability so that we can get data out of our platforms and systems so they can be shared securely, kind of across the enterprise where we find value, or where we are able to leverage AI to create value.”

While the board’s report said including its recommendation in the next must-pass defense policy bill would not, on its own, be a panacea for all of DOD’s data challenges, it wrote that “enhanced collaboration with commercial vendors will propel DOD’s antiquated approach to data access decades forward in the next 12 to 18 months.”