Defense IT

DISA: We need industry more than ever

Tight budgets and a shifting technology landscape have put government in the position of having to rely on industry as a partner more than ever, a panel of Defense Information Systems Agency IT leaders said Thursday.

Speaking at the AFCEA Defensive Cyber Operations Symposium in Baltimore, the panel touched on a number of areas where DISA, and the military in general, see closer engagement with industry as essential, on matters ranging from the security stacks that undergird the Joint Information Environment to working with Silicon Valley on new technologies.

Tony Montemarano, DISA’s executive deputy director, who moderated the panel, said he wanted to be clear on that point: “We will coexist with industry,” he said. “The old days of us against you are over. We can’t do it anymore. It’s not a matter of whether something should go to industry or something should go to DISA. We have to work together with you all.”

The new approach is being driven in part by the Pentagon’s realization  that the speed of technology is rendering the old model of mammoth, multi-year IT and weapons programs untenable, but also by the simple fact that there is less money to work with.

“We don’t have the money to build our own systems,” said Martin Gross, vice director of the agency’s Implementation and Sustainment Center. Instead, the military needs ready-to-use products from industry, “post-milestone C capabilities that already exist in the public sector that we can capitalize on.” (In the stages of development, milestone C means a product is ready for production and deployment.) One example he gave is the satellite communications deal with Iridium, which has not cost the agency more despite greater usage. “You’re going to see this more,” Gross said.

David Stickley, DISA’s services executive, who drew laughs with his comment that events such as AFCEA’s were “like vendor speed dating,” said he agreed with a comment earlier in the conference from Defense Department CIO Terry Halvorsen: “No more requirements,” Stickley said. “We really need to be talking capabilities.”

Another example: The Joint Regional Security Stacks that form the foundation of JIE. JRSS, which DISA began deploying early this year, enable the military services’ networks to work together and increase security by reducing the attack surface, essentially creating one network instead of many. But DISA is already looking to streamline the stacks. Montemarano said that a JRSS currently takes up 16 to 18 server racks. “We need industry to change that” in the interest of saving on space, cooling and power, he said.

Jack Wilmer, DISA’s infrastructure development executive, pointed out that JRSS isn’t government-developed but is more the work of industry, so industry’s role in improving its efficiency is a logical step.

Among other topics the panel addressed is the need to securely harness cloud computing, the search for innovation through DOD’s foray into a partnership with the Silicon Valley and the overall effort to speed up acquisition.

“We have to break through the perception that we cost more and are slow to deliver,” said Jessie Showers, DISA’s infrastructure executive, stressing the importance of getting products and services to warfighters as quickly as possible. “They need something and they need it now,” he said. “They don’t want to hear that it will take 60 days to do it.”

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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