IT Industry Reacts to Gates' Reforms
As part of a broad cost-cutting effort, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is eliminating the office of the assistant secretary for networks and information integration; the Business Transformation Agency; the Command, Control, Communications and Computer Systems Directorate of the Joint Staff, known as J-6; as well as U.S. Joint Forces Command, which also oversees IT programs.
The IT industry suspects that these agencies are being shut down because they employ lots of contractors and thus became easy targets. “It’s important to note that developing and implementing technology solutions has never been a core competency of the federal government,” said TechAmerica CEO Phil Bond. “On first blush, the technology industry is concerned that some of the planned measures could undermine the government’s own ability to acquire the 21st century capabilities our war fighters need.”
Gates disagrees. The proliferation of IT agencies has resulted in a “patchwork of capabilities that create cyber vulnerabilities and limit our ability to capitalize on the promise of information technology,” he said.
“We're still organized for what some would call a circuit-based phone-line world,” said Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale.
What’s to blame for such a dysfunctional IT power structure? Legacy systems, said Keith E. Seaman, acting acquisition executive at the soon-to-be-defunct Business Transformation Agency. (BTA, by the way, is being terminated because it duplicates the work of other agencies.)
Such a hodgepodge of IT organizations exists today because the Pentagon has failed to modernize and continues to cling to its older “sacred cow” networks, Seaman said at a conference, several weeks before the closure of BTA was announced. “We love our legacy systems. … The legacy systems are killing us,” Seaman said.
Another reason why IT reform is needed: The Pentagon spends billions of dollars on technologies that are useless to troops in the field. “They’re usually designed for general officers,” Seaman said. “Can you tell me the last time you’ve seen a general officer use anything but their e-mail or their cell phone? It’s their subordinates that use these things and subordinates of today are demanding innovative, creative, cool, intuitive systems.”