Buzz of the Week: DOD as a social networker

During the past year, Federal Computer Week has reported how the Defense Department, in many ways, has been at the forefront of Web 2.0. After all, DOD’s concept of net centricity largely mirrors the Web 2.0 concept of tapping into the wisdom of crowds.

DOD leaders want to give people in the field access to as much information as possible, recognizing that they will know what particular data will help them make better decisions. The same thinking drives Web 2.0.

There has always been something of a battle in the Pentagon between the shooters and the techies, with many shooters clearly suspicious of gee-whiz gadgetry. But times are changing. We have seen a real evolution in how Pentagon officials think about network-centric operations.

Today, “transformation,” as trumpeted — some would argue steamrolled — by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is almost a verboten term, and his legacy is in doubt as experts assess the full effect of his strategy.

Rumsfeld believed that technology could make warfighters more efficient, lethal and nimble, and the early days of the war appeared to prove him correct, with DOD defeating Iraq’s military with surprising swiftness.

But that was only the beginning, some military experts say, pointing out that the trimmed-down, hyper-efficient armed force has not been able to truly win the war.

The December issue of Wired magazine delves into the problems in a story headlined “What went wrong in Iraq (Hint: Blame the geeks).” The story makes the point that under the Rumsfeldian concept of transformation, war was efficient, but what got lost were the social connections — the links that are critical in insurgent operations like those in Iraq.

“Network-centric warfare, with its emphasis on fewer, faster-moving troops, turned out to be just about the last thing the U.S. military needed when it came time to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan,” writes Wired contributing editor Noah Shachtman.

“There aren’t enough troops to…patrol a marketplace.”

And so transformation and network-centric operations are transforming yet again, most likely to incorporate more of the social networks as defense thinkers ponder how to fight the wars of the future.

The Buzz contenders

#2: Ready to man the phones
As many as 200,000 civilian and contractor employees could be laid off at the Defense Department Feb. 23, 2008, if no money is available to pay them. Instead of pulling military duty, warfighters not immediately preparing to go to a war zone will be asked to perform administrative duties and fill in for laid-off employees. A protracted fight between lawmakers and White House officials over the war spending bill has forced DOD to begin planning for an outcome it hopes to avoid but looks increasing possible, given the strong will and conviction on both sides of the fight.

#3: Blochhead judgment?
Instead of calling the help desk, Scott Bloch phoned Geeks on Call to have his PC drive sanitized. Bloch, who leads the Office of Special Counsel, told authorities he asked the Geeks to wipe a computer virus from his PC’s hard disk. But the Wall Street Journal said last week that Bloch asked the Geeks to perform a seven-level wipe — the equivalent of nuking the drive.

Bloch’s actions raised the suspicions of the Office of Personnel Management’s inspector general. The IG, at the request of White House officials, is investigating allegations that Bloch retaliated against his employees and mishandled whistle-blower cases, which his office is charged with overseeing.

Bloch has angered White House officials by continuing to investigate whether Karl Rove and others besides General Services Administration Administrator Lurita Doan violated the Hatch Act by politicking in federal agencies before the 2006 midterm elections.

#4: Boutelle hooks up with satellite project
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Steven Boutelle did not give up a job with gravitas only to settle into a routine lobbying gig in the private sector.

Boutelle, the former chief information officer of the Army, began a new job last week at Cisco Systems, where he will lead the company’s participation in an industry/ government effort known as the Internet Routing in Space Project. IRIS is about adapting IP routing technologies for use on satellite communications links to achieve higher throughput and increased network efficiency for the military, our colleague John Rendelman reported in Government Computer News. The higher throughput, he said, would mean the military could use smaller, cheaper satellite dishes to receive the same amount of data as today’s bulkier systems or use the larger dishes to receive vastly more data than is possible now.

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