DISA develops warfighter resources for the next engagement
Agency helps bring Web 2.0 to the battlefield for information sharing, interoperability
- By Wyatt Kash
- Nov 08, 2010
Army Lt. Gen. Carroll Pollett became director of the Defense Information Systems Agency in late 2008. DISA has a workforce of about 1,900 active-duty military personnel and 5,000 civilians who are responsible for developing and maintaining interoperable command and control capabilities and global enterprise infrastructure and information services for the military services.
He spoke recently with Defense Systems Editor-at-Large Wyatt Kash about the agency's challenges and priorities, additional responsibilities that will come to DISA from dismantling the Joint Forces Command, and progress of the agency's Base Realignment and Closure move to Fort Meade, Md.DS: A central theme of your vision for DISA is delivering a seamless blend of communications, computing and services. How would you characterize the progress DISA has made during your tenure so far?
Pollett: In the past, we have commonly talked about transport, computing, information assurance and enterprise services. What we have tried to do — and I think we are being effective at — is focusing on technology allowing us to integrate and synchronize all of those particular capabilities into a common enterprise infrastructure service from the edge back. One of the products that we are using to build this infrastructure is the Global Information Grid Convergence Plan. It’s a technical guideline that looks at the best practices in engineering within the department and industry and helps to find the kind of technical solutions that we want to use to build capability within the DOD GIG. It’s meant to be utilized by DISA and other organizations within the department. Our objective is to build enterprise solutions that are interoperable…in accordance with the latest standards and how we see standards evolving in the future.
We have also developed a Chief Engineer’s Panel, chaired by my Chief Technology Officer, David Mihelcic. Our focus is on how to optimize technology. This panel will develop and approve the agency's overall technical strategy and architecture and ensure programs comply with DISA’s overarching strategy.DS: What areas are of particular interest right now?
Pollett: We are very interested in where Internet technology is evolving — particularly Web-based technology — for how we conduct information sharing. Another area is being able to optimize IP collaboration, both in terms of voice and video, to enable more effective command and control. Also important is our ability to leverage wireless and new smart phone technology development in support of the mobile warfighter that we can optimize within the Defense Department.
To support this effort at DISA, we have actually embedded our government engineers into our lines of operation. We are finding that if we can bring our engineers, operators and our acquisition teams together to achieve what the warfighter is asking for, we get closer to getting the capabilities they are looking for faster.
DS: How do you see the test and certification process adapting to facilitate more rapid software delivery?
Pollett: The objective that we are trying to achieve is to develop mission-focused testing as a service on demand and be able to respond in real time to provide capabilities faster. Much of the testing process is a serial process, and it takes too long to complete. We are trying to integrate our testers, bring in the user and…have common standards that help us to address joint interoperability and information assurance testing into an agile, mission focused team. We have talked about trying to federate our testing capabilities and network them so that we are able to test things in parallel. We want to eliminate the need to build more stovepipe test beds by providing a means for testers to locate needed assets, connect them into their test, collect the data needed, then release it when completed. We believe we can achieve significant resource efficiencies and greater agility. Technology today provides us the means to put our test environment together on demand. The idea is to create a virtual library of systems and services to avoid having to stand up physical systems for every test. So we have restructured our testing capabilities within the agency under a senior executive, Dr. Steven Hutchison, who is aggressively working these initiatives across the department.
DS: DISA has recently taken on the task of developing an enterprise e-mail service for the military. DISA abandoned a similar initiative two years ago. What’s different this time?
Pollett: The most significant thing that has changed, from talking to my engineers, is that the technology has evolved [in terms of] scalability and security. Obviously, you can look at e-mail in the commercial market, and they don’t have any problem with scalability. Our challenge with the scalability was the security in that environment. We feel that based on our engagement at this point, that the technology has evolved to a point to where the opportunity to achieve scalability and security simultaneously is an opportunity that we can leverage.
We thought there was goodness in partnering with the Army to conduct an operational test. DISA could do the initial work to stand up this enterprise e-mail, exercise it within the Army and DISA, and establish the standards and enterprise solutions that we could then migrate to the rest of the department. I will not tell you that it’s going to be easy. There are some challenges here, but I am optimistic that based on the work that has been done in the preliminary stages that we have an opportunity within DOD to get this right.
DS: What’s on the short-term horizon in terms of next steps forward?
Pollett: The idea is to take the technology that has been developed and embed it into nine of the DISA data centers to initially service Army and DISA users. Based on current schedules, beginning in January 2011, the Army will start migrating e-mail users. The projection is to migrate over a million users on the unclassified network and 200,000 users on the secret network by the end of 2011, followed by [the Transportation, European and African commands], followed by the rest of the department. This effort will produce significant efficiencies and, we believe, begin to generate annual savings, starting in 2012.
DS: What techniques are you using to accelerate information sharing internally at DISA and with your service customers?
Pollett: This is a great question because what we are seeing from the warfighter is a huge demand signal to address the requirement for information sharing and collaboration. We have to work through both challenges associated with policy and technology. You also have to put in context who we are trying to integrate into this environment. It’s not just U.S. forces. We are focused on U.S., coalition, NATO, interagency and nongovernmental requirements, both from an unclassified and classified perspective.
Probably the one that you heard the most about is our Defense Connect Online system. It services 408,000 users now on a continuous basis, 24/7. The user is able to activate anything from point to point to multiple users and chat capabilities to collaborate globally within DOD. Internal to DISA, I use this with people across the globe.
There is also a network called [the All Partners Access Network]. It used to be the Asia Pacific network, but it has evolved, and it’s now being used in [the Southern and African commands], and we are seeing it migrate to a number of other [combatant commands] and services for utilization, but it is unclassified. It has social networking characteristics and the ability to integrate not just coalition but nongovernmental organizations. It’s proven to be a very powerful tool that we are using within the department.
Another tool that’s being used is SkiWeb. It’s used on a classified site, allowing us to not just post and share information but it actually allows for blogging and the ability to provide clarification, updates and corrections in real time for situational awareness and decision-making.
It’s really about the applications and the Web-based services that you are able to provide to the edge that we are focused on. That gets back to that seamless environment we talked about, our objective is to integrate this into our data centers to leverage our global infrastructure, optimize the security constructs that we have, and, at the same time, allow our network operations to manage that environment to assure that it’s reliable and it’s being evaluated constantly in terms of its ability to provide services to the edge user.
DS: How has the recent transfer of DISA’s responsibilities from the Joint Task Force-Global Network Operations to Cyber Command altered your perspective on cyber threats? And what is your response to those who believe that separating those functions from DISA makes it harder to have a holistic approach to cyber defense?
Pollett: I think it’s important for people to understand that we deactivated an organization, not a capability. What we actually have done is taken the capability developed in the JTF-GNO and the people that were part of that organization, and we embedded and grew that into U.S. CYBERCOM. Based on this, I believe we have become more effective. We have integrated and synchronized the capability across the full spectrum of cyber operations.
One of our objectives was to ensure that we did not break the connective tissue between DISA and the new command. We have a defined doctrinal support role to CYBERCOM in relation to capabilities we bring to bear in this environment. It’s important to understand that DISA’s role has now transitioned into a support role to the command. Look at the DISA mission in terms of the fact that we design, engineer, acquire and provision the core elements of the DOD Global Information Grid. We do that now under the direction of CYBERCOM in direct support of their operational mission. So I feel good that we are gaining synergy in this effort.
DS: Much has been made of DISA’s relocation in January 2011 to Fort Meade and the worries about attrition and lost capabilities — including reports about CYBERCOM possibly occupying DISA’s new facilities or even combining with DISA. What are your thoughts about that?
Pollett: I will tell you that DISA is still on track with our BRAC move. We are moving roughly 4,000 people to our new facilities at Fort Meade, and that’s still the plan.
With respect to CYBERCOM, you probably need to appreciate that we have actually embedded two DISA elements inside of CYBERCOM. We have established a DISA Field Office, just as with our other COCOMs and sub-unified commands. The DFO maps the command’s requirements to our capabilities. Secondly, we have embedded a DISA support element within their Joint Operation Center to synchronize and coordinate our efforts as we receive orders and taskings to provision and support requirements.
The DISA Command Center inside of our new facility will be linked to our embedded engineers inside CYBERCOM so that we complement our efforts to support the infrastructure requirements globally.
DS: Can you cite examples of how you’ve been able to adjust your skills portfolio with the DISA team as a result of BRAC?
Pollett: We have lost some intellectual capital and experience within the agency over the last two years. We will miss some of that talent, but our hiring processes are outpacing our losses. Today DISA is right at 100 percent strength as we prepare to make this move to Fort Meade. In the last 18 months, we have moved from about 23 percent of the workforce being Maryland-based to 34 percent. My confidence is reinforced based on the number of seniors and people within the workforce at the midgrade levels that have agreed to move with DISA; even though you lose good people, there are always good people behind those. You give them an opportunity to move into positions of leadership, and they bring new, innovative ideas and initiatives. We are seeing that time after time as we plan to move 4,000-plus people and continue to operate and stay on mission today.
One of our key initiatives is our interns program. We now have 370 interns in our program at college and graduate level that will be a part of our workforce and are moving with us to Fort Meade. We have developed university partnerships, and we’ve had great success recruiting people out of graduate programs and undergraduate programs into our workforce.
We have been very aggressive in shaping our workforce: 900 job descriptions were rewritten to make sure we were not retaining legacy positions but looking at what we need with software and hardware technology skills for the future workforce. So I am very optimistic that our people are adapting to what we are facing with the BRAC, and I am confident we will stay on mission and continue to do well in the future.
DS: Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ plan to reduce and reallocate the defense budget has raised many concerns, including the elimination of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration (NII) and the director of C4 from the Joint Staff. How are these decisions likely to impact DISA and your plans?
Pollett: Obviously, we support our secretary’s objective to gain efficiencies. That has been one of our primary focuses within DISA: How do we gain greater efficiencies? At this point, we feel positive about what we are seeing in terms of our share of the budget allocation to be able to support our mission. You never get everything you need, but we feel that we have a fair distribution of resources based on explaining the operational requirements for what we do to support to the warfighters; it’s not about money for DISA. It was very deliberate on our part to delay the release of our campaign plan to the end of February because one of the cornerstones is to align our resource model with our priorities and initiatives for producing capabilities. We are working very hard to reduce redundancy and verify the priorities to ensure each task that we establish is clearly focused on output and how we are going to do that both short-term and long-term to accomplish our mission.
DS: Can you comment on NII going away and which roles might come to DISA?
Pollett: DOD has created a task force to look at the mission roles and functions of NII and the Joint Staff. We are very much a part of that task force in helping to provide recommendations, but no decisions have been made in terms of where those mission roles and functions are actually going to reside.
DS: You’ve said the evolution of DISA has tended to reflect the commanders and needs at the time. David Kelley was a visionary for information assurance; Lt. Gen. Harry Raduege helped build the transport environment and GIG; and Lt. Gen. Charles Croom pushed DISA to take advantage of enterprise services. How would you want your impact on DISA to be characterized?
Pollett: The focus that I have brought to this team is operationalizing DISA. To me, it’s all about providing capabilities to support the warfighter. Probably the greatest emphasis that I have tried to bring to bear is how we ensure this enterprise infrastructure is transparent to the user at the edge in terms of providing capabilities. That’s really where we have put a lot of energy. I want people to respect the fact that DISA is responsive to the warfighters’ requirements and that we are going to ensure as an agency that we have set the conditions and we are prepared for the next engagement.