Funding asterisk casts shadow over Army e-mail

Officials at the Army and the Defense Information Systems Agency have said it’s full speed ahead on their joint enterprise e-mail project, even though they’ve admitted to bumps along the way. But the whole project — pegged at $52 million in 2011 alone — could be in danger because a congressional subcommittee has proposed stripping 98 percent of the initiative’s funding.

The Army has already moved 20,000 e-mail accounts to DISA’s enterprise cloud, and roughly 1 million accounts are slated to migrate by December. Army officials expect the move to save them as much as $100 million a year starting in 2013, said Margaret McBride, a spokeswoman for the Army CIO.

The e-mail migration is part of a broader Defense Department push to consolidate data centers, become more interoperable and save money. But now the future of one of the department’s most visible enterprise IT initiatives is uncertain.

That uncertainty is a major step back from the unified IT community that DOD leaders are calling for. In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee’s Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee in April — the same group that is angling for the 98 percent cut — DOD CIO Teri Takai stressed the importance of enterprise IT.

“By delivering a streamlined, rationalized and simpler network through consolidation of information technology infrastructure across the department, [our] strategy will deliver efficiencies that can be redirected to mission capabilities,” Takai said.

However, members of the subcommittee are not convinced, at least when it comes to e-mail. They have asked the secretary of the Army to furnish business-case and cost/benefit analyses for moving the service’s e-mail to the DISA cloud. Until then, the Army would receive only $1.7 million of the $85.4 million requested, according to the markup of DOD’s fiscal 2012 budget.

“It’s hard to conceive why the subcommittee is doing this,” said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting. “This is an example of a program that has been conceived with a lot of care and pursued with great vigor. It’s puzzling that Congress would choose to interfere with an initiative that makes so much sense and seems to be going so well.”

But how well is the project actually going? DISA and the Army have admitted to some snags in the development and migration processes, most recently in a conference call with reporters.

“We’ve made a lot of refinements, and Microsoft and the service center had to do some patches,” said Mike Krieger, the Army’s deputy CIO, during the May 3 call. He added that they’ve had to refine their tactics, techniques and procedures.

Maj. Gen. Ronnie Hawkins, vice director of DISA, confirmed that there have been problems with the migration tool and process.

Watching and waiting

Then there are the costs. Although Krieger and Hawkins said the project is on-budget, Krieger said the estimated per-user cost is currently around $52, which is higher than the $39-per-user figure estimated by former Army CIO Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson before his retirement in November 2010.

Sources speaking on background said that despite the recent official assurances, the project’s baseline cost has swelled significantly and could continue to do so. They also said the overruns could be a contributing factor in Congress’ review of the project.

Another issue is whether and when the other military branches will join what is designed to be a DOD-wide enterprise e-mail service. Hawkins said the other services are watching the Army’s project closely before making any decisions.

“Whether other services join [enterprise e-mail] depends on the side of the street you’re on,” he said. “For DISA, it’s a matter of when. For the other services, it’s an if. The other services are looking to see how successful this will go...and that’s something we’re aware of.”

Despite the obstacles, Krieger and Hawkins are optimistic about the project’s future.

The potential ramifications of the congressional review are unclear. According to McBride, the Army CIO’s office doesn’t comment on pending legislation. The subcommittee’s proposal still has to pass full votes in the House and Senate.

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Reader comments

Fri, Jul 22, 2011

FYI - CAC Authentication works just fine with Windows XP. Just ask the tens of thousands of us doomed to be controlled by the Navy - Marine Corps Interanet (NMCI).

Fri, May 27, 2011

$52 million is not justified just to give everyone a second email account. They should have fixed AKO to make it usable. Now they will have the unusable AKO and a second email system to pay for.

Tue, May 24, 2011

Speaking of costs, consolidating e-mail servers may save on hardware but the bandwidth to most Army sites has to be significantly upgraded to support the e-mail traffic. And bandwidth is not inexpensive.

Tue, May 24, 2011 JD D.C.

The Army could probably save some dough by eliminating AKO, or at least by streamlining its ease of use. Especially for National Guard soldiers, as I once was, AKO is a huge pain, so most people I knew never checked their AKO emails, etc. Seems as though the logins never worked, then there was the whole deal with CAC readers. The information for records in AKO was rarely up-to-date. Perhaps pushing off a separate system onto NGB that talks to AKO would save the regular Army some money and make the states pay for some of the burden.

Mon, May 23, 2011 Happy User

"GAO Auditor" doesn't have his/her facts straight. The Army already has all of the necessary licenses, which is why they chose to use Microsoft Exchange, and no hardware upgrades are generally necessary, since the users are already running the Outlook client for email. In some cases obsolete hardware must be updated (old machines running Windows XP), but the new email system is simply the catalyst for what should have happened long ago. Windows Vista or 7 are required in order to support the mandated CAC authentication.

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