DoD Officials: Budget Austerity 'Good' for Fixing Scattered IT Systems

By Eric Beidel
If the keepers of the Pentagon’s information technology systems are worried about budget cuts, they aren’t showing it.
In certain instances, they appear to be welcoming the austerity that most fear. Tight budgets could fit right into their plans to consolidate and streamline a convoluted IT infrastructure, they said Aug. 28 at an Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association conference near Washington, D.C.
“Resources are going down, which is actually good for IT,” said Michael Krieger, deputy chief information officer for the Army. “Whatever we do in the Army now, especially on the IT side, we have to do a cost-benefit analysis” that looks at the benefit to the soldier, security and expenses, he said.
The Defense Department must redesign its disparate IT resources so they behave like one enterprise, making networks less vulnerable to cyber-attacks, Krieger said.
“You're more operationally effective, you're more secure and in many cases, you're probably cheaper,” he said.
Officials have been working on the idea of a joint information environment, or JIE, for a few years now. The Army, Air Force and Navy, which now separately design and manage their own information systems, all have expressed a desire to create an environment in cyberspace that acts like a single, coherent weapons platform, said Navy Rear Adm. David Simpson, vice director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, which is working with the services to consolidate IT assets.
The Defense Department currently has 770 data centers, most of which run at underused capacity. By 2012, the department wants to have eliminated about 115 of them.
The Pentagon’s unclassified network alone has nearly 4 million users and more than 7 million computers. Different networks often bloom up around individual competition programs, deployed operational units and task forces, each with its own set of firewalls. This hasn’t necessarily meant better protection, Simpson said.
“They created a false sense of security,” he said.
A joint information environment would shift the advantage from those trying to gain access to networks to those defending them, Simpson said. Threats sent through email attachments, worms, downloads, spam, chats and other avenues could be sniffed out and stopped on the perimeter, instead of waiting for them to be caught by individual systems.
Declining budgets mean that agencies won't be able to build whole new systems. The Pentagon will have to find inefficient legacy IT spending and look for ways to repurpose it for the joint environment, Simpson said.
“While I argue we are going into a very difficult budget environment, I don't necessarily see that as the glass half-empty,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert E. Wheeler, deputy chief information officer for command, control, communications and computers (C4) and information infrastructure in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. “I argue that the glass is half full.”
There will still be plenty of opportunities for them in a more fiscally conservative environment, but Wheeler cautioned executives to leave their one-trick ponies at the door. Officials want ideas and products that work across the military services.
“We're looking for network solutions,” Wheeler said. “Not individual solutions that fit a significant little niche area.”
This past spring, the Joint Chiefs of Staff decided to resurrect after a two-year hiatus its J6 directorate supporting C4. Army Maj. Gen. Mark Bowman, who was tapped to lead the J6, said a joint information environment is not a program of record and does not benefit from turnkey solutions. It will capitalize on efforts already under way, such as cloud-based enterprise email and data center consolidations.
The Defense Department wants ready-to-go commercial technologies and will worry about correcting imperfections down the road. If something is just 60 to 80 percent developed, that is the new perfect, Bowman said.
But “it's not always about buying stuff,” he said. It's about improving tactics, techniques and procedures and nailing down requirements.
The joint information environment “is the most complex activity we have out there,” he said. “This dwarfs the complexity associated with Joint Strike Fighter or any other big program. This is not a program. It's a meshing of a whole lot of programs and going toward a future in an operational environment where everybody can interoperate from the get-go.”
All of the services have their own processes for consolidating IT assets and moving toward the joint environment. They are on different schedules and at different points in the process, which can make it appear as if they are not on the same page. But they are, officials said.
“We need to share, work together, move on together and learn and adapt as we go,” Bowman said. “This is the future. We will never go as an Army alone into combat. We will probably never go as a nation alone into combat.”
Krieger added: “We'll all get there.”
Photo Credit: Army

Topics: Cyber, Defense Department, DOD Budget, Infotech, Architecture, Enterprise, Information, Service Oriented

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