Gates' budget-cutting plan leaves Defense CIO role in limbo

Post has been vacant since the George W. Bush administration

Of all the plans and initiatives Defense Secretary Robert Gates outlined in his budget-cutting portfolio, one is emerging as perhaps the biggest uncertainty: What will happen with the still-vacant Defense chief information officer role?

The post has been open since the George W. Bush administration when John Grimes left, and filled on an acting basis by Cheryl Roby ever since. In March President Barack Obama nominated California CIO Teri Takai for the position, but last week’s strike of Takai’s hearing from the Senate Armed Forces Committee docket was a harbinger of what was to come.

It would now appear Takai's position is in limbo until Congress and the Pentagon sort out new roles and responsibilities for the Defense CIO, leaving many to  wonder whether she will stick around for the outcome.


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With the release of the new plans, Gates has announced he will close the Networks and Information Integration (NII) office that houses the Defense CIO and shift the role, as well as other responsibilities, to the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA).

According to a presentation by Christine Fox, director of Defense Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, DISA itself will undergo major changes as it takes on the command and control duties of NII and also the ill-fated Joint Forces Command and Joint Staff. The result will be a new DISA/CIO organization, she said.

Gates said the CIO job also will see some changes, becoming stronger and “under its umbrella, responsibility for daily operations will be assigned to DISA. A refashioned DISA will perform the department’s CIO function.”

Although no one is exactly sure how or where the specific duties, offices and responsibilities will be assigned, analysts are noting that the changes spell more authority for DISA, and that the agency and its leader, Army Lt. Gen. Carroll F. Pollett, are well-equipped to handle the transformation.

“The big story here is that this is going to be a tremendous plus for DISA. Many of the eliminated functions will be moved there, and some are already there so it may not be a huge change,” said Warren Suss of federal IT consultancy Suss Consulting. “This is going to improve DOD’s ability to respond to mission requirements, and I think it will be a relatively smooth transition.”

And while the closure of NII has come as a surprise to much of the Defense community, Suss suspects it isn’t exactly blindsiding the most important stakeholders. “You can be sure this reorganization is being made in full consultation with [Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright] and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Cartwright is a supporter of near-term, most-effective support to the warfighter just like Pollett is,” Suss said.

However, it appears not everyone agrees the closures are the right answer. Nextgov’s Bob Brewin reports that former Defense CIO Grimes believes the Pentagon did not conduct a thorough analysis of the consequences of shutting down NII.

Regardless of where the DOD CIO position ends up organizationally, it’s not going to be completely eliminated, since it’s federally mandated under the Clinger-Cohen Act. But Gates has not elaborated on the responsibilities of the restructured CIO job or its associated roles, such as a deputy or assistant secretary. Right now, Dave Wennergren serves under Roby as acting deputy CIO.

 

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